Land, ice, sea, air…

Happy new year everyone! I hope you all had a great break and I offer you my best wishes for 2014!

As life as a PhD student can, at times, be very intense, sometimes the best strategy is to put everything else on hold and focus entirely on your studies. This remains the main reason I haven’t updated this blog in so long. I’m still enjoying my PhD on Arctic zooplankton at Universite Laval in Quebec, and I’ve done about 2 years now.

The months from June to December 2013 were full of ups and downs. My parents and sister seemed to have a great summer holiday in Canada, and have every intention to return. My mum finds it much easier to deal with me being away for so long when she can put a face to the places and people I tell her about on Skype. I flew home to see them again at Christmas, and it always overwhelms me to go back to my small village and realize how far I’ve come from the days of walking my dog Jack through those sleepy back streets of Balerno, whilst talking French out loud to myself, in preparation for my high school SQA exams. I’m so lucky to be studying and living in Canada, where I have real opportunities for a good career in what I specialize in. Anyway, more on that later!

The summer and fall period for oceanography students at Universite Laval is typically occupied with a 12 week scientific cruise to the Canadian Arctic, aboard the massive icebreaker CCGS Amundsen.

The famous Amundsen

These cruises have been going on for years, funded by different sources. Last year, there were two 6-week legs, the first beginning in July and the second in September, and a switchover of crew and scientist teams in between. I participated in leg 2, collecting zooplankton and fish. In our lab, Moritz, Cyril, Max and Marianne had a successful first leg, collecting loads of samples that we will analyse in the coming months. The second leg, unfortunately, was not so successful, as it involved a fatal helicopter crash right at the beginning. Everyone on the cruise at this time was shocked and grief-stricken by this event, whose cause is still under investigation, but we bonded together and got through it. It definitely reminded us of the dangers of working in the Arctic, which extend much farther than the risks from polar bears! The cruise was cut short by four weeks and we all flew back home.

Research came to a halt after the crash, so we went for a hike on Beechey Island, where there’s  a shrine to earlier Arctic explorers who died in this dangerous landscape back in the mid-1800s. They were looking for the Northwest Passage (Franklin expedition)

I returned to the lab and continued working on the chaetognath samples I had started on previously. I also finished my first paper on arrow worm ecology in Svalbard, now in press for Marine Ecology Progress Series, with Norwegian co-authors Janne and Oystein. I think the paper will be published in a month of two. In the months after that, I focused entirely on my PhD chapters, on animals from the Canadian Arctic. This led to me winning the first place poster prize of $500 at the Annual ArcticNet Science Meeting (the largest meeting of Arctic scientists in Canada) held in Nova Scotia in December. The poster showed abundance data for the chaetognath species in the Canadian Arctic, clarifying (although we all knew this already), that chaetognaths are obviously important and should be studied more. I also showed data on the timing of reproduction and their feeding habits. I was really happy about the prize (the money helped me immensely at this point), but particularly by the fact that my subject was now getting attention from important people in science. Also, when I collected the prize, I was, of course, wearing my kilt.

As the year drew to a close, it became time for a much needed break, for me but also for my girlfriend who is working really hard on her BSc in Psychology. On Christmas Eve, we flew to Edinburgh (this being Sophie`s first time in the UK) and stayed with my family until the 10th January. Lots of fun times were had, and I think I enjoyed Edinburgh even more as a tour guide to a city I know off the back of my hand. We went on rollercoaster rides, ghost tours, lots of walks, visits to the theater and spent one week in the beautiful Scottish borders.

Sophie and me in Montreal Airport on our way to Scotland

We made sure to enjoy those beautiful Scottish landscapes

The famous Forth Rail Bridge, whose design was duplicated  here in Quebec

Now we’re both back in Quebec ready to begin a new session at Universite Laval. Based on the last year, 2014 is set to be crazy busy, but also the stuff of dreams. With such great opportunities ahead, I’m excited to be working!

Have a good one and please stay tuned for more regular posts (I promise this time!)

Cheers, Jordan x


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