Scripps Postdocs Participate in Prestigious Oceanographic Chief Scientist Preparation Program

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Scripps Institution of Oceanography postdoctoral researchers Kyla Drushka and Tali Treibitz took part in an intensive week-long workshop and oceanographic expedition as part of a program funded by the National Science Foundation and Office of Naval Research to prepare young scientists for leadership roles aboard U.S. academic research vessels.

Fourteen graduate students and early-career oceanographers from around the country were awarded the opportunity to participate in the program, which was coordinated by the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS).  UNOLS is an organization of the nation's oceanographic institutions with the mission of coordinating efficient science operations aboard the 19 research vessels in the U.S. academic research fleet.  Scripps is a charter member of UNOLS and operates four major oceangoing research vessels.

The workshop and scientific cruise were designed to instruct early career marine scientists and Ph.D. students on how to be cruise chief scientists, who must effectively plan and execute a research cruise.  Successful scientific programs require an understanding of how to go about requesting ship time aboard the ships coordinated through UNOLS, as well as knowing successful strategies for handling the complicated logistics involved in planning an expedition.  Seemingly mundane tasks such as ensuring proper equipment is aboard, allocating space for scientists, and creating flexible operational plans are key to a successful mission.  The ability to capably plan, manage, and execute research operations that are conducted around the clock at sea are important skills for young scientists – and are a hallmark of Scripps oceanographers.

“This initiative provides opportunity for ship time for young researchers in a crucial stage of their careers to conduct research that otherwise maybe wouldn't have been done,” said Treibitz, who works with Scripps oceanographer Jules Jaffe. Her project during the cruise was to deploy a new in situ microscope for phytoplankton imaging.

            The program is similar to the UC Ship Funds program, which makes awards through a competitive internal peer-reviewed proposal process, which itself exposes students to the important process of developing strong research proposals. Since 1995, UC Ship Funds have supported an average of 57 days at sea per year on cruises ranging from one-day trips off San Diego to month-long expeditions from foreign ports. Each of these cruises typically involves one or more experienced faculty mentors, as well as highly skilled and experienced marine technicians, who provide hands-on training and guidance to students.

            “Early career scientists often find it challenging to get access to research vessels, and sometimes on their first cruise they have to serve as chief scientist,” said Annette DeSilva, assistant executive secretary of UNOLS. “There is a lot of responsibility that comes with being chief scientist, so this cruise gives them hands-on practice that will help them for the rest of their career.”

            Drushka, a former Scripps graduate student who has returned as a postdoctoral researcher working with oceanographers Janet Sprintall and Sarah Gille, described as “eye-opening” the number of details involved in leading a cruise, many of which come into play well before scientists ever board the ship.

“It was a completely different experience to be in charge of my own albeit little experiment, making decisions that were motivated by my science and would affect my data. It was so much more engaging and exciting – and stressful,” said Drushka, whose project during the cruise was to measure sea surface salinity levels along the track of a salinity-measuring satellite called Aquarius.        “It was also useful to meet a bunch of other early-career researchers who are also excited about fieldwork and collaboration.”

The program is currently in its third year, and follows last year's successful workshop and research cruise hosted by Scripps aboard its R/V New Horizon.  This year's program was located on the east coast aboard R/V Endeavor, an intermediate class research vessel operated by the University of Rhode Island that is similar to R/V New Horizon.

Related Image Gallery: Chief Scientist Training Cruise

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