From a summer with telescopes, to getting your sea legs the hard way

By

3 December 2014

selfieBy Mikayla Keen

I love my job. As a CSIRO communication advisor I get to work with amazing scientists, hear fantastic stories of discovery and innovation, learn new things… and get paid to do it.

I began my CSIRO adventure in 2009 as a summer student working at the Parkes Radio Telescope. At the final seminar I asked ‘how do I get a job here?’ and four months later I was a communication advisor supporting agricultural scientists working across the country.

MK

Ah, back in the day. My first job at CSIRO was summer intern at ‘The Dish’.

That physics degree didn’t help me understand the work they were doing, but then the job isn’t about becoming an expert in the science. Being a communicator is all about listening, asking those silly questions and helping the scientist tell their story. The only trouble is there aren’t enough hours in the day to tell them all.

I love my job, last week more than most, because last week I got to go on the new Investigator marine research vessel. I’ve never been to Tassie before so it was a week of firsts; first time visiting Hobart, first time on a research vessel and first time throwing my guts up on a piddling four metre swell.

Don’t ask me how I managed it but I scored a berth on one of Investigator’s sea trials. I have to admit my heart went badaboom when I first saw her sitting across the bay as I drove over the Tasman Bridge. Investigator is one fine lookin’ Sheila, even her aft-side looks good.

Once on board, the first thing I noticed was how quiet the ship is once you’re off the main deck. There was only a quiet hum from the engines and the occasional lapping of waves against the hull to disturb the peace.

I was lucky enough to score a cabin on the first platform deck (one below the main deck) with a porthole. It was bliss waking up to the reflection of the sun shimmering off the surface of the Derwent.

View from porthole

‘Views from a porthole’.

I’ve cruised before, but nothing is quite like the Investigator. I’m pretty sure it’s the biggest cabin I’ve ever had on a ship, although I had to make my bed. Oh, the horror.

You have to be really conscious of sound too; the crew works to 12 hour shifts which means your neighbour might be just getting to bed when you get up in the morning and you don’t want to disturb your neighbour. They might be responsible for steering the ship, or feeding you.

Yes, there are chefs on board, and what joy they bring to the voyage. Food is available 24 hours a day and I can personally vouch for how darn good it is. That’s a feat considering no one can pop in to the local supermarket.The ship’s pantries and cool rooms are substantial in size and sturdiness. Not only do they store enough food to feed up to 60 people (most of them burly men working long hours) for up to 60 days, they also have to keep the food stuff safe during rough seas.

While the food was delicious going down it was not so lovely coming back up. Turns out my guts of steel were not so steely. As we sailed over the continental shelf Investigator was tracking back and forth, mapping the sea floor. This meant changing the angle of the ship to the swell, from calm to rough and all that choppiness in between. Hello, lovely new bathroom.

I wasn’t much better the next day when the team were practicing deploying the big Southern Ocean Flux System (SOFS) mooring. These moorings have to survive the southern ocean for over a year at a time so they’re big and sturdy. The big float sits on the surface bobbing up and down with a long chain of instruments hanging beneath it. The four metre swell was perfect conditions to test deploying the mooring before the real thing in the southern ocean next year.

SOFS float

Southern Ocean Flux System (SOFS) mooring.

It was not so perfect (or mild) on my stomach. I’ve been in worse conditions and been fine but then in the past I’ve had the advantage of being on holiday; sitting on deck, eyeballing the horizon, drinking ginger tea. Investigator is not a holiday destination; it’s a research vessel and there’s work to be done .

The third day of the voyage dawned clear and calm (sigh). I ate a wonderful full breakfast to make up for what I had missed. Hat’s off to those who can do this for months at a time. Although, the views really aren’t so bad.

There is joy to being on the water.

There is a joy to being on the water.

CSIRO has been darn good to me over the years. I thought it might be difficult to top starting off at the most beautiful radio telescope in the world, but CSIRO is just one of those places where no matter which way you turn, you can’t help but trip over an amazing story.