28 May 2022

Not needed on the research vessel

One Thursday, an email came through from the head of school. It was a call for help. We have gone through years of covid restrictions, and these restrictions have led to all sorts of things, among others restricting the opportunities for our students to experience going out on our research vessel. It is not a big vessel, and if you are expected to keep 2 m apart you can hardly put anyone on it.

Restrictions have largely been lifted now, and the School decided to offer current third-year students and opportunity to at least get a little bit of an idea of what goes on on board of this vessel. Getting the entire cohort on board and actually sailing off was not feasible, but what they did instead was just leaving the boat where it's normally docked, and spending an entire week letting students sample for suspended particulate matter (SPM), chlorophyll, and plankton, from the ship, and process the samples onboard. They would have two-hour slots, and they let seven students in each slot. That way you can give quite a large number of students a taste of Marine science!

If you want to show small groups of students three different sample processing methods, you basically need three members of staff, and hence that there was a call for people to volunteer to join in. And I decided to sign up. A day later I got the request to be there for three slots on Tuesday, and I said okay.

I biked in that day, and got to the ship. There I found my colleagues Dei and David. Dei suggested I take charge of the SPM. That was fine with me! David quickly talked me through the procedure and then I was ready. Our head boat technician first explained CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) measurements to them, and then we split them up in little groups and started sampling. We only had five! That was two groups, so basically only two staff was needed. I was a bit uncomfortable with the situation. I was mainly just hanging around! And I had plenty to do.

The wet lab of the research vessel (or at least the SPM corner of it)

At 11:15 (we overran bit) we had a quick coffee break, and 11:30 the next group showed up. And that was a group of only three! You really don't need three members of academic staff to show three students around. So they suggested I just go elsewhere, and I accepted that suggestion. I didn't have my computer with me as I expected to be busy all day, so I just found myself a computer in a teaching space, and started marking dissertations.

After the second batch we would have a lunch break; I had told Susan I would join her when she would have lunch with a new member of administrative staff. It's nice if new people get to know people! And I had told Dei and David to join as well, although their lunch break would start half an hour later, and Dei has a bit of a habit of getting carried away and overrunning. They didn't show up…

At the end of the lunch break I went back to the ship. But this time again, only three students had shown up! I thought this was a bit ludicrous. All the students had explicitly registered for this opportunity. And of course something can come in between; you can fall ill or sprain your ankle or anything like that. But in these three session, practically half the students had just not shown up. I don't believe they all had sprained ankles. 

Whatever was going on here (it did remind me of my last fieldtrip where about also only half of the explicitly registered students showed up), it was clear I wasn't needed at all. I decided the pop back into the office building to see if one friend and colleague I hadn't seen much recently was around. He was! So we caught up, and then it was time for me to get back onto my bicycle and head back home. More dissertations were waiting to be marked. This had been a rather weird day. I hope in the next academic year, this sort of stuff will happen a lot less. But I have no idea if it will!

No comments: