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Motivation and Selection

Pete Milner, Polar Guide, Rothera 2001

How do the people living in Antarctica get chosen to go there? What qualifications / degrees do you need to get involved with the survey?

There are a whole variety of jobs available to people that come to the sub-Antarctic and Antarctic with BAS, ranging from carpenter and mechanic to physicist and zoologist. Most people that spend a winter in the Southern Hemisphere for BAS do so as part of a 2½ year contract, involving three austral summers and two winters.

Here, at Bird Island, we are only four people during the winter, three zoologists (zoological field assistants) and one carpenter. The job of zoological field assistant at Bird Island is very popular as it is one of only a very few places on earth where you can live and work amongst thousands of Antarctic fur seals, black browed, grey headed, light mantled sooty and wandering albatrosses, and gentoo and macaroni penguins. Ben, Nick and I (the current zoologists here) have all got a good degree in zoology or biology as a starting point. This meant that we all did GCSEs and A-levels with a view to becoming zoologists (for example, I did chemistry, biology and physics A levels). Some people also have further qualifications; I have a Master's degree in wildlife zoology, and a previous assistant had an MSc in an ornithological subject. However, having previous experience of working with wildlife, doing fieldwork and living in remote or harsh environments are qualities that will really help someone get the job, as is plenty of enthusiasm. At Bird Island everyone helps with everything as we are only a small base; we take it in turns to cook for everyone, someone services the generator, someone keeps the water supplies running etc. Everyone pitches in to help and so you learn all sorts of practical and useful skills.

The more technical jobs that are available are often offered as 18 month or 2½ year contracts. Most bases require a generator mechanic (to keep the generators running and provide power to the base), a carpenter (to build equipment and fix things), field general assistants (very experienced outdoor experts to lead trips into the field and keep everyone safe), an electrician, a plumber (to keep the bases supplied with water, and to stop the pipes from freezing), a chef, a communications manager (to run the computers, e-mail, faxes and HF radios). Some of these jobs require a degree, whilst others require plenty of previous experience and problem-solving abilities. However, they still all need plenty of enthusiasm. These jobs are available at most of the bases so there is plenty of opportunity to see all of the BAS bases, on the Antarctic continent and on the sub-antarctic islands.

When you apply for a job with BAS they contact some of your acquaintances to ask about your personal character, for example, do you have any anti-social habits?, do you get on well with others? etc. To spend 2½ years "down South" with BAS you need to be able to do your job well, but you also need to be able to be happy and content living as part of a small base, helping to run it and being able to get on with other people from all walks of life.

Why did you choose to go to Antarctica, how many times have you been there and for how long?

I started mountaineering at school and afterwards I was in the army for three and a half years, so I seem to have been living in the outdoors for most of my life. After I left the army I spent most weekends outdoors. This is my first trip to the Antarctic and an adventure I thought would never come my way. I count myself very lucky. My tour is 33 months long, nearly two and a half years or three summers and two winters. I have been on five expeditions to the remote mountains of Alaska and one to East Greenland in winter before I came here. That was my preparation, when I arrived here I still had things to learn, a new apprenticeship started. When the BAS job came up I decided that I had to try for it, it was too good an opportunity to miss. This is a place I have always wanted to see and to be honest I didn't really believe it would happen. You have to follow your dreams, sometimes they actually come true.

I will be working at Rothera for 2½ years, which may seem a long time to you but these first nine months have really flown by for me. I now think that the time is going too fast and I will not be able to fit in all the things I want to study, see and do. I chose to come here for the challenge of working and living on the harshest continent and for the excitement of studying the amazing biological life that manages to survive here. To stay alive here we have buildings with heating to keep us warm, plenty of water and food to feed us, these amazing plants and animals have no such luxuries.