Research Highlight: Back at the Helm


After a a five-year funding drought, students at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego are welcome to submit proposals to serve as chief scientists aboard any of the four Scripps research vessels.

The recovery of University of California ship funds will mean that about 10 to 15 days of ship time on research vessels Robert Gordon Sproul, New Horizon, and Melville can be supported for the remainder of 2007. It also means that Scripps can again offer a perk that had set it apart from other oceanographic teaching centers for decades until sharp budget cuts scaled back state support of the institution’s ship operations and other programs. Federal funds support most research cruises and typically students only assist in expeditions led by their advisers.

Scripps Associate Director of Ship Operations and Marine Technical Support Robert Knox described the development as a “new day after a long dark night,” noting that many younger students at Scripps might not have known that the opportunity to direct a research cruise ever existed.

Several Scripps alumni who served as chief scientists while students said that directing the science mission of research vessels initiated them into the world of proposal-writing and helped develop their skills as field researchers, especially by challenging their management skills as they contended with tight schedules and the multitude of problems that usually arise during a cruise.

“It was a great experience to find the money, organize and plan the cruise, during which I, a simple graduate student, was to determine where a large ship with a crew of 23 would go,” said Luc Rainville, a former student of Scripps physical oceanographer Rob Pinkel, who led a 2002 cruise off Japan aboard R/V Melville. Rainville is now a postdoctoral researcher at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Mass.

Through an agreement with the U.S. Navy, the University of California had preserved a funding stream that allowed limited student use of Scripps’s fourth ship, R/V Roger Revelle alone. Katie Phillips, now a postdoctoral researcher at Scripps, said that the experience of being a chief scientist gives Scripps graduates a prominent achievement on their resumes and a leg up on other young researchers when submitting proposals to use ships in their studies as PhDs. Phillips submitted a proposal for use of Revelle while a graduate student and became chief scientist of a May 2006 cruise off Hawaii just days after she submitted her doctoral thesis.

“It’s a fantastic learning opportunity,” said Phillips. “The best way you can learn to be a chief scientist is to go out and do it.”

— Robert Monroe


Sign Up For
Explorations Now

explorations now is the free award-winning digital science magazine from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Join subscribers from around the world and keep up on our cutting-edge research.