Joanna's Advice for Living and Working
at Palmer Station (and a little bit more)
BE AS FLEXIBLE AND POSITIVE AS POSSIBLE. KEEP YOUR EYES AND EARS OPEN FOR OPPORTUNITIES AND TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THEM.
Do not plan on having "free" time. There will be more than enough to keep you busy 24/7. Remember to take some mental health time for yourself. Do something that makes you feel balanced. Solitude will be hard to find.
PreField time with your PI
Spend social as well as lab and science discussion time with your PI at his/her home institution. Dinners, lunches or activities.
Find out who will be on the field team with you. Be specific, ask your PI if he/she will be in the field. Meet as many of the team who will be with you as possible. Know what their roles are (team leader, etc.)
Get a list from your PI of journal references related to your project and read them. Reread a basic college text for the background science of your project (ie. marine biology, ecology, chemistry.)
If your research project offers you the opportunity to do something less usual (ie. diving) that may need to be cleared by additional people/organizations, start early and make sure you have permission before you get to the ice.
Learn to use the equipment that you will be working with in the field, from the most simple to the most complex.
Work with your PI. Set the stage for mutual respect as independent professionals who are willing to learn from one another.
Find out what safety precautions are necessary for the materials you will be working with, both to protect you and to protect the data/samples.
Make sure you are using the equipment correctly or are carrying procedures out correctly. If you feel rusty or have questions, ask your PI before you use/ do them.
There are no silly questions when the alternative might be compromised data.
If you are working with chemicals that give off fumes, you may not be able to wear your contact lenses in the lab.
Preparing your Substitute
Prepare for several contingencies: best case to worst case. From a competent science substitute you were able to plan with before you left; to a competent science substitute coming in to a chaotic situation after you left; or to a relatively non-scientific substitute coming into your classroom after you leave.
Plan for several possible levels of integration with your field experience: from most involved with lots of communication, to the bare minimum that will allow your students to know what you are doing on a weekly basis.
In other words, do your own damage control planning before you leave.
Leave duplicates of all plans and information with your school's principal and department head.
Arrange in advance for another teacher in your building to be your communication liaison to your students if the sub situation deteriorates. Your students will be sad and indignant if they do not get to follow and send/relieve messages to/from you.
Getting There and Back
Palmer Station is accessed through Chile. Commercial air will take you to Miami from your point of origin; to Santiago, Chile (8.5 hours) and on to Punta Arenas (4 hours). One of the USAP research vessels (most likely the LM Gould) will transport you from Punta Arenas to the Antarctic Peninsula (4 days).
Chile in December (opposing hemisphere's daylight savings times) is two hours ahead of Eastern. Chile in June is the same as Eastern time. The Peninsula is on Chile time.
There are no size or weight restrictions for luggage on the vessel. You can ask for excess airline baggage coupons if your project requires a lot of gear. Try to travel light and remember that your practical clothing is taken care of by the program.
Respect the ship rules.
You are baggage being transported so do not inconvenience science teams and support staff who will be working on the vessel.
The ship has linens, washing machines, dryers, workout facilities, hot tub/sauna, library and videos. The vessel is dry. Life is on military time with fixed hours for (usually fried) meals. Crew are on 4 hour watches so be quiet in the halls, you never know when they may be sleeping in their quarters.
You will need close toed shoes to wear inside. You will generally share a two person stateroom with its own bathroom and shower with someone who will be staying on board the ship.
The Raytheon MPC (marine projects coordinator) has sea sickness meds if you need them, the little yellow pills were highly recommended. I took prescription strength Meclazine and was fine. Patches were used with mixed satisfaction, they are very strong. The Drake can be a lake, it can be extremely hairy. If you normally experience motion sickness, you will want to bring your own meds.
Be flexible when waiting for the ship to leave port. Their scheduling is variable.
Your return ship dates and airline reservations are extremely soft. Make no definite plans that depend on you getting home on the date your tickets say you will get home. You may not know for sure when you will be getting home until 24 hours before you get on the plane. Your family, school and sub will also have to be flexible.
Clothing issue is received in one green army duffel in Punta Arenas, Chile.
Try it all on and make sure everything on the issue list is in your duffel.
They have many more items than you will be presented with, don't be shy about requesting different sizes or additional gear. Don't go overboard, the clothing issue is quite good and will keep you warm without adding to it.
I would ask for an extra pair of wind pants and extra boot insoles. If your project will take you out in boats frequently, you can get a pair of rubber boots in addition to the normal Sorrels. Another good item that you will have to ask for are canvas work pants (Carhartts).
There are a few items of personal clothing that make life more pleasant:
X-country ski earmuffs or headband
thin set of long underwear to go under everything (silk is good)
for women: all long underwear and fleece bottoms you feel you will use
tennis shoes for working out, your own hiking boots for outings and (if you normally wear them) sandals (like birks and tevas) to wear around the station.
something nice for celebrations, parties, good dinners and to get out of your
issue/work clothing! (not tons and not too fussy --- don't be remembered as the person who brought several semiformal dresses, nylons, and 3 pairs of dress shoes)
The food was wonderful and included a good mix of vegetarian as well as meat entrees. Freshies come in on every ship from PA.
There are snacks available at all times and the fridge can be raided as well. When the cook isn't in the kitchen, others are welcome to use the facilities.
If you need candy bars in your diet, or American style jams and jellies (vs. South American fruit preserves and marmalades) you may want to bring your own.
The store is well stocked with tourist shirts, outerwear, decals, glassware etc. It also had a good selection of lotions, soaps, hair care products etc. I could have left my larger bottles at home.
Bring extra traveling alarm clocks and many batteries for all of your gear. The store has some batteries, but not all types.
Bring small things from home to cheer you up - pictures, fragrant soap, sparkly nail polish, favorite jewelry, stuffed animal, musical instrument (there is a guitar there).
There are two rooms of public computers, two or three PC and one Mac in each. Most science teams will also have a dedicated computer but it wasn't convenient for me.
I brought a laptop computer and would highly recommend you bring one if you are staying at the station. I could work on my time schedule, leave things active on the desktop and save things to the hard drive.
There are CD writers connected to the stations Macs. The station common drive has a file of pictures that you may want to borrow or add to.
Some software will need to be added to your computer to work in conjunction with the station and ship servers.
I took two weather proof Pentax zoom instamatics for slides and prints (also as back ups) and a Sony Mavica with 10X zoom.
I brought 60 rolls of Fuji Provia slide film (mostly 100, some 400) and used 46 rolls. Brought 30 rolls of Kodak Gold 200 print film, used 10 rolls and really regret not forcing myself to take more. I was very happy with the quality of both types of film and made the purchase less painful by ordering them from B&H Photography at discounted prices.
I took 60 formatted disks for my digital camera so I wouldn't have to use time erasing them and I used 53 of them. You can burn all of those onto a CD before you leave as an extra backup.
The station does have a small dark room, so you can developing your own black and white prints. I took only 5 rolls of Fuji Neopan, but it was a beautiful location for it!
I wrapped all my film in aluminum foil with the shiny side out and didn't have any problems with exposure even though it went in checked luggage with stronger x-rays.
Berthing is in two person rooms on the third floor of the BIO-LAB building and on the second floor of GWR (garage, warehouse and recreation). Linens, towels and pillows are provided. You may want to bring your own wash cloth.
The rooms are not huge, a reason to place limits on what you bring down.
There are bathrooms and washer and dryers in both buildings. The liquid laundry soap provided is fine.
Room assignments are prioritized by ranking in the science or support hierarchy and by time on ice. There are also other scheduling reasons the station manager places you in the room you are in. Be accepting.
By the sink in the galley there is a posted sign up list for the hut, a small wooden structure that you can sleep in out of sight of the station and next to the glacier.
Some people also set up tents in the backyard and sleep there frequently.
Palmer is much more laid back than McMurdo or Pole or the ships. There are from 28-45 people on station at any time and you live in close proximity.
Before you can go out in the Zodiac boats you will have to take Boating 1 and the Islands course. If you want to drive the boats, Boating 2 needs to be included.
You will go everywhere off the station proper with at least a partner and a radio after having signed out on the board. The only exceptions are the backyard (rocky peninsula area between station and the glacier behind it) where you can go by yourself without a radio and the glacier where you can go by yourself.
Keep safety in mind at all times and be conservative in your actions in risky situations. In a best case scenario with no weather problems you are 2-4 days away from a hospital in Chile. Members of the SAR teams may be put at risk helping to rescue or evacuate you. You are not only acting to keep yourself safe, but to keep others safe also.
Most station rules are written with safety in mind, follow all of them. Especially radio communication and signing in and out.
There is a doctor at Palmer with material and facilities to deal with emergencies and triage/stabilization.
Get to know as many station support staff, ship crew, and members of other science groups as possible --they are an incredible group with a wide variety of interesting experiences.
Station support crew work six days a week. The all-hands meeting is on Saturday and a great time to talk up TEA to newcomers. There are also Wednesday night science lectures, you might want to bring slides or power point presentation to show one evening about the TEA experience.
The peninsula is much more moist than other parts of Antarctica. Horizontal rain/slush is not an uncommon weather pattern. While I was there from March til May the temperature ranged from 40 F to 20 F, usually right around freezing. One sunny day a month is normal. It tends to be very windy.
Pitch in, you are expected to here. There is no janitorial staff and Saturdays at 2 pm is House Mouse. Every station hand is assigned a part of the station to clean. Once a week you take part in GASH, the nightly clean up and sanitizing of the galley and kitchen. You clean your own dishes after meals.
You are a member of the station community and a representative of TEA, teachers in general and your science team. What you do (and don't do) is noticed and remembered. Don't feel paranoid, you will be watching them too!
Take part in the fun things too - Friday poker games or the 8 pm movies.
Make sure your family and friends know how important it is to you to hear from them while you are on the ice. The connection that it provides to the rest of the world and to those people will reduce your reentry problems. Communication from home becomes very important. They can write to you well before you leave so there is mail waiting for you when you arrive. (mail to Palmer is very difficultI decided not to bother with physical mail at all. It came once while I was there)
This experience will magnify things good and bad in your personal relationships. It may be a catalyst for change.
Your field experience will bring you closer to some people and be very hard on your relationships with others.
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