Research cruise and field work withdrawal

Hey everyone,

I am writing to you from the frozen tundra of Cape Cod. Winter has definitely arrived to the North east (and most of the East coast) since I have returned from field work in the Caribbean and I’m not going to lie, the weather has made it hard for me to transition back into the swing of things!

I wanted to take some time to write about a topic that has been on my mind since I returned from field work.

I first noticed a mournful and solemn feeling on the last day that I was on the Alucia. I was sitting in the crew mess with my sore left foot propped up on the seat in front of me and wrapped in ice (remember . . . from my bunk bed incident?) and I was alone because everyone else was preparing for the boat “demobe” (demobilization: essentially getting all of our science equipment and gear off of the boat and shipping it back to original destination).

As I sat there, I was mentally flipping through my personal cruise highlight reel, laughing and smiling to myself as I remembered all of the wonderful and specific experiences and moments that I had enjoyed for the past couple weeks. There was our initial travel down to the Alucia and our last minute errands (running around the local town the day before we left, trying to collect all the items that we needed to live and conduct research for the next month). The first moment that we boarded the vessel. Enjoying Halloween on our transit day as we steamed towards Havana. Meeting the Cuban scientists as they boarded the ship in Havana. Setting up the lab and labeling vials with Mayelin while sitting on the floor in the hallway and listening to her favorite music. Kalina’s birthday celebration. Salsa dancing (and getting salsa dancing lessons) under the moonlight and stars. Getting nudged by a shark underwater. Watching the stars on the top deck in silence. The grouper that stalked Colleen. Games of tiki toss and corn hole. Hanging off the side of the Northwind at sunset. Belting Backstreet Boys with my advisor as we filtered seawater. A specific incident involving a puddle. Just so many memories.

I am definitely missing this!

I am so grateful for these memories, but as I sat there, it dawned on me that I would never experience these specific moments again. And I was sad. And I realized that it would be some time before I could dive on these reefs again if I am so lucky. And I was sad. And I reflected that it would probably be some time before I would be able to speak with and share a dance with my new Cuban friends. And I was sad. And this is also what I am going to refer to as research cruise withdrawal.

I have experienced this feeling before, after finishing field work, but I would argue never to this degree. This was the longest I had been in the field and my first major cruise. Someone I was speaking with recently (maybe Ashlee) referred to this cruise as “science camp” and I couldn’t agree more. Everyday was filled with excitement and wonder, laughter, sunshine, time underwater, corals, delicious food, starlight, song, dance, and friendship. How could I not lament the end of this cruise?

I guess I am writing this post to record that I am feeling this bittersweet feeling, to chronicle that it is a part of my PhD journey, to emphasize that scientists are relatable, and to reach out to others who may have also experienced this. It’s likely a normal aspect of field work, but rarely discussed. I even tried to search for other posts or articles on this topic, but I couldn’t find any specifically related to field work or research.

I am using this bittersweet feeling as an anchor to help me remember how grateful and fortunate that I am to have experienced all these memories. And to motivate me to continue to seek out fun, spontaneous, and adventurous experiences no matter where I am or what I am doing. This will be especially useful to hold onto since winter is coming (who gets that reference ;)).

Thanks for reading!




Alucia: Walton Smith: Cape play by play

Hey everyone,

Guess what – I made it back safely (well- ignoring my foot issue) to the Cape after spending 35 days away (with 31 of those days spent on a research vessel on the sea)!

I have been busy since we left Havana, Cuba and transited back to Florida on the Alucia so I thought that I would use this post to give you an update!

We arrived in Florida on Friday around lunchtime (side note: it doesn’t take very long to steam from Havana to Florida, especially when you are 1) riding the gulf stream and 2) steaming on a powerful vessel) and I spent most of my Friday evening waiting at an Urgent care clinic to get my foot inspected (I fell from my top bunk and my left foot hasn’t been the same). I left the clinic with an ace bandage and knowledge that my foot doesn’t have any obvious breaks or fractures, but with no information about the source of my pain. After the clinic visit, Ashlee, Colleen, Amy, and I had a lovely dinner outside and we were serenaded by our own personal musician. After dinner we went back to the Alucia and spent our last night on the vessel.

Colleen and Ashlee during dinner on Friday night: amazing women scientists!

On Saturday morning, we dealt with some last minute packing and preparations for shipping our pile of gear back to WHOI on shipping pallets.  We departed the Alucia around mid-morning and I tried to say goodbye to as many of the Alucia crew as possible. Hopefully I will see them again! We spent Saturday afternoon getting some much needed relaxation and downtime at a hotel in Miami beach and had a lovely dinner at a happening Thai food restaurant close by.

On Sunday morning, Ashlee and I flew to St. Thomas, U.S.V.I. to meet up with the R/V Walton Smith to complete the next adventure in our field work journey. Amy wasn’t able to fly with us on Sunday because she fell ill, but she was able to recover slightly and rally, joining us on the Walton Smith two days later. Ashlee and I met Justin (another MIT-WHOI JP student who has been working on the reefs in St. John) at the airport and we took a taxi to our hotel, had dinner, and spent the night in St. Thomas.

On Monday, Ashlee, Justin, and I were picked up by the Walton Smith in St. Thomas and then we transited back to our temporary neighborhood in Great Lameshur Bay off the island of St. John, U.S.V.I. Before the pick-up, we also ran into my colleague Dr. Chris Kellogg (a scientist at USGS who studies microbial associates of tropical and deep-sea corals) who was collecting samples to assess water quality around the island of St. Thomas! It was great to see her again! Once we got to Great Lameshur Bay, we met up with the octocoral/soft coral expert Dr.  Howie Lasker (chief scientist of the cruise and professor at SUNY Buffalo) and his group of amazing scientists, divers, and people! I was especially excited to see, live, and work with Angela and Jackie again (my two friends from the past summer 2017 that I spent in St. John)!

On Monday afternoon, I frantically unpacked and located all of our water sampling equipment (all different varieties of pumps, vacuum manifolds, cryovials, data sheets), literally colonized every crevice of the spacious wet lab space on the Walton Smith, and managed to squeeze in water sampling for two of our reef sites before sunset!

Great Lameshur Bay, St. John, U.S.V.I. – the water is reflecting my favorite color!
PC: Ashlee Lillis!

The next couple days passed in a busy blur . . . many liters of water were filtered, many dives were completed, many transects were conducted, many croissants and desserts were consumed (the chef on the Walton Smith was AMAZING and he even gave me an electronic copy of a massive recipe and cookbook :)), and many sunsets were appreciated. I also got to celebrate my birthday on the Walton Smith, which was made extra special by Ashlee, Amy, and the chef! I will fill you in about the premise for this cruise in a few days and life on board the Walton Smith, but for now, know that we had a fun albeit busy and exhausting time!

On Friday, the Walton Smith took us back over to St. Thomas and all of the scientists departed with the gear and equipment. The staff at the port referred to Ashlee and I as sultans because we had so many pieces of luggage! A couple hours later, we celebrated the end of the cruise at a fun restaurant close to our hotel.

The next day, we had a nice late breakfast at Gladys’s and then we took a taxi to the St. Thomas airport (along with our 456,789 pieces of luggage). We flew back to Boston via Miami and if you want more of a description of this adventure, imagine me hobbling through the giant terminal D in the Miami airport, getting a window seat WITHOUT A WINDOW, and having a defective TV screen. This is also a reminder to myself to never fly American Airlines again!

We arrived at Logan airport at midnight, collected all of our bags, froze standing outside of the airport, and took our shuttle to the Cape and WHOI. At 2:15 am, I turned my car on for the first time in 35 days (and it turned on!), drove home, and face planted in bed.

Thanks for reading!