I just had a bit of an experience while uploading an old photo to Facebook – this one:
Ok, maybe it was the caption I put with the photo – but still!
Anyway, if you’re interested in the story behind that photo, we have to go back to sometime in 1998 – I believe it was August. A lovely summer. I was at the Southampton Oceanography Centre (as it was called then). I had just finished my biology degree in Germany. Those were the days before bachelor’s and master’s degrees were introduced there, so it took about 5 years (or 10 semesters) on average to get a biology degree, and the last year consisted of a project and thesis in the area one had decided to specialize in towards the end. I had decided to do my project in Southampton for various reasons.. and then, for other reasons, I got stuck there. Not a bad place at all to be stuck at the time! The summer of 1998, I was working as a research assistant/technician in the resident deep sea research group. To my immense joy, I was given the opportunity to lead a small team of volunteers on a cruise to the Porcupine Abyssal Plain to take samples from a unique, deep sea long-term study site, the PAP site.
So off I went with my little team, all efficient. Taking sediment samples for macrofauna, diligently slicing up box core samples. Doing science. I didn’t even let the person who snuck up to me to leave those paw prints distract me – I was on a mission.
The sediment samples had to be rinsed through fine mesh sieves – these types of sieves were originally meant for geologists to analyse the grain size of sediments, but benthic biologists have been using them for a long time to wash the critters out of the sediment and pre-sort them by size (or rather, aptitude to pass through certain mesh size sieves – but let’s not get into that). Now, deep sea mud can be quite sticky – finely sorted, very small grained sediment. It takes a long time to wash any reasonably-sized sample through even a very big sieve.
One day (or was it night? I don’t remember – it started to all blend together), after standing on deck for endless hours with a big sieve, lots of mud, and a hose with running seawater, gently going back and forth with the sway of the ship and washing and bottling sample after sample, one of the engineers walked up to me. He was really trying the small talk, but I was really very tired. One thing he said has stuck with me until this day, however:
“I would have thought that someone like you would have chosen to do something more…. glamorous.”
Well. I ended up in science management, didn’t I?