A look back at 2018

A co-worker recently said to me, “I don’t know what you do on an average day”.

It isn’t uncommon in an organization of our size not to know the day-to-day happenings of all your co-workers. That was partially why we started this blog, to share with our ASLC family and all of you the highlights, the fun and exciting aspects of our job as marine scientists:

The fieldwork

The Labwork

The fieldwork and labwork that doesn’t go as planned

The start of new projects

and the continuation of on-going projects.

When you peek behind the curtain though, an average day as a research scientist at the Alaska SeaLife Center is less action movie, and more documentary. Most of my days are spent writing statistical code, writing draft papers, or writing grants (good thing I minored in writing back in undergrad!).

Even David Attenborough would have a hard time making our daily grind exciting:

Here sits the soft-funded researcher in their natural habitat—the office. Watch, as they carefully check over all 900 cells in their spreadsheet for errors. After painstakingly building this elaborate budget and proposal, the researcher will then perform an intricate dance to convince funders that their research has intellectual merit and broad impacts. If either part of the dance is lacking, the funders, sadly, move along to the next proposal—this one, has shiny baubles.

Image result for bowerbird gif

You can watch the original footage of the amazing Bowerbird from BBC here

This isn’t exactly the picture of a scientist that most people think of, but I wanted to close out the year being vulnerable about the stories we share here, and why we share them.

90% of my day-to-day life isn’t glamorous, isn’t exciting, and a lot of pressure rests on being successful in writing grants as they pay for everything from pipettes, to boat time, to the salaries for my staff and myself. Being at a science institution or university provides amazing opportunities for outreach, teaching, and access to facilities we need for our research, but at the end of the day, as soft-funded researchers, we are largely on our own financially for holding back the tide while also swimming forward with producing new research, projects and results. Finding the balance between all these components can be difficult, and certainly exhausting.

However, if you read them closely, the blogs we shared this past year demonstrate some of the ways we can navigate this difficult environment:

Collaborations. Volunteers at The Marine Mammal Center’s San Luis Obispo Operations and Mike Harris (middle) of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife track Otto, a southern sea otter, after his release in Morro Bay. Otto was released with a surgically placed Life History Transmitter (LHX) tag that will collect data over the course of an animal’s life using special sensors. Credit Brian MacElvaine © The Marine Mammal Center, USFWS permit #MA101713-1

Collaborations—The male bowerbird in the video above is competing against rivals to gain access to limited resources (in this case female bowerbirds). While scientists are also ‘competing’ against each other for finite grant funds, that competitive mindset only goes so far. Those that try to navigate the dance of funding alone might find themselves at a disadvantage. Being open to sharing ideas and building a strong team can make all the difference, and can enable you to do some really cool research; this takes time, teamwork, and communication.

A screenshot of the "scicomm" hashtag from Instagram.
Creativity With over 58,000 posts, #scicomm on Instagram brings together science and art.

Creativity—Many people think of scientists as all logic and left-brain analytical thinking, but creativity is just as important in this dance. If all you have in your tool box is a hammer, you might see every problem as a nail. Instead, it is important for scientists to be able to consider their research question and spend some time thinking outside of the (tool)box for the best methods for answering that question. This builds on the idea of collaborations because you can bring together people with different tools, different ways of looking at problems, and different ways of communicating. Again, this takes time, openness, and a commitment to promoting diversity of ideas and backgrounds in science.

Persistence: Not every hook catches a fish (or at least not the fish you were trying to catch)

Persistence—For many, this is the biggest challenge as a scientist. Even with all the collaborations and creativity in the world, you get told no.

A lot.

For every story you read here on the blog there are 10 stories of rejection. Your paper wasn’t good enough. Your grant wasn’t funded. You code won’t run. Your student funding is running out. Your paper still wasn’t good enough even when you tried to fix it. Your hooks still aren’t catching any sharks…

Being successful in soft-funded science requires time.

It requires thick skin.

It requires failing, learning, and picking yourself up again.

And yet….to quote another famous “Doctor”’

“The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t always spoil the good things and make them unimportant.”

~ Doctor Who

I can’t speak for the whole science department, but the stories I share in my blog posts are my “good things”. They are important to the mission of generating scientific knowledge and promoting stewardship of Alaska’s marine ecosystems, and they are important to me. They remind me of the amazing collaborations I’ve made, the teams I’ve been lucky to work with, and the creative sparks in the dark. They demonstrate that we are learning more about our ocean ecosystems every day. They are the reasons I love mentoring the next generation of scientists and science communicators.

So as we close out 2018, I wish everyone has a New Year full of creativity and collaborations, that the successes out-number the rejections, and that we are all able to keep moving forward.

See you next year!

Written by: Amy Bishop, PhD

This article is “perspectives”; the views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the ASLC

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