Where do you currently work? What is your job title? I am a Large Vehicle Operator at McMurdo Station in Antarctica.
What is a typical day like for you? I typically work five 12-hour days during the summer, which is early October through mid-March in Antarctica. One third of the summer season is spent on night shift which, due to the 3.5 months of constant daylight, looks no different from the day shift.
Shifts vary day to day depending on if and when the ski equipped LC-130 aircraft or C-17 cargo jet are landing on the ice runway. I am tasked with transporting the passengers to and from the planes and to a number of science or worksites near McMurdo Station.
I drive a wide array of vehicles over the course of the summer; large vans with trailers, pick-up trucks with tracks, 22-ton articulated Deltas, the six wheeled ‘Ivan the Terra Bus’, and the 107-foot long Kress 730 tractor with ten six-foot high wheels and two articulation points.
Meals are all buffet style and housing is in large dorms. The summer population of McMurdo Station is around 900 people and in the winter about 150. During the summer, we are visited by several species of penguins and the aggressive skua. In the winter, we are often visited by an amazing milky way and auroras at noon.
What qualifications and qualities do you need for your job? Much of the training for this job is done on-site. Although, a big aspect of getting hired to work in Antarctica is past experience. Having spent time at Sterling, I am well suited to life in a small community that experiences long stretches of cold.
What led you down this career path? I have been working seasonally for the past few years and going to Antarctica is an adventure unto itself. You never know what you are going to see or who you are going to meet (Prime Minister of New Zealand or National Geographic scientists). After a season on the ice, you are set loose in New Zealand with a free ticket home, which is a nice perk. I got interested in Antarctica after a friend of mine told me about his time spent on the ice.
What’s been the most rewarding experience in your career thus far? Hard to say. . .Last winter I was a member of the Joint US New Zealand Antarctic Search and Rescue Team (JSART), which was a great experience. However, this past summer I got to fly in a helicopter to the Dry Valleys—an area where snow and ice does not accumulate and results in some amazing moon-like landscapes.
And the frustrations? While shuttling people around does not sound very difficult, there is a lot of scheduling and logistics going on. I can get frustrated when someone I am driving gives me a hard time because they cannot get exactly what they want.
How would you describe Sterling – in one word? Intermingling
What do you value from your Sterling experience? Having had Anne Morse as my friend and advisor for four years, a good working knowledge of many skills and crafts, shared experiences like Winter Expedition, and many formative lessons.
What experiences or courses at Sterling contributed to your career path? Going to Sterling gave me many skills that did not necessarily come from a particular course. For example: flexibility, problem solving, and the need to try new things.
What is your fondest memory of Sterling? During one of Anne Morse’s classes we had someone out in the cedar swamp banging a drum and we had walk/stumble through the swamp towards the sound of drum while we were blindfolded and barefoot.
What advice would you give current students interested in pursuing a career similar to yours? Don’t be too plan oriented, learn to travel light, get your passport early, and make packing lists.