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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

Career Path: Reflection on a Science Journey

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    22 Oct

    Some days, I still can't quite believe that I'm a scientist. I never had the intense curiousity that other scientists have. The drive to experiment, and discover. The need to understand by first hand experience how the natural world works. Those types of people amaze me. I work with them everyday and I am constantly inspired by how they view the world.

    But, that's not me.

    I came to science through a different route. I've always liked learning and understanding new things. My best subject in school was maths, mostly because of how deterministic it was. As long as I had the right rules and framework, and applied them correctly, any problem was solvable. The transition from maths to science came out of frustration. What was once my favourite class became boring and annoying: why should I have to put in so much effort to prove a mathematical solution that someone else has already solved? I'd rather be using maths to solve new problems.  Thus, physics.

    Physics was interesting and exciting. And really difficult.  I still don't fully understand electronics, or electricity and magnetism. Luckily for me, when it made no sense, I could do the math and obtain a partial understanding of the answer. The more I explored physics, the more I narrowed down my own interests. Astrophysics was cool, but too large in scope.  Nuclear physics was intense, but too intangible. I wanted something more relevant to me, and to people in general.

    Now, I'm a physical oceanographer with a focus on the Southern Ocean. I research the physical aspects of the ocean: waves, tides, currents, and eddies. I love working with such a dynamic and interactive system. Everything is connected - the ocean, the atmosphere, the ecosystem, and the ice. And all of it comprises the changing climate, which affects the entire Earth, and us humans.

    I'm currently working at the British Antarctic Survey as a researcher, a dream come true for me. While I spend my time analyzing satellite data and running computer simulations, another researcher spends 2-3 months each year drilling holes in the ice while living in a tent. Others monitor and track bird populations, or apply AI technology to large datasets. There are many types of people, in research and support roles, with varying expertise and interest. And they all work together to learn more about, and solve, climate issues.

    I don't have a resounding message of inspiration. So much of my journey was serendipitous and I made so many mistakes along the way. While I like where I am, I do question if it was worth it, and I'm not sure I'll stay. That uncertainty seems to be part of the price of being a scientist. The best thing you can do, in my opinion, is to surround yourself with supportive people. People who support you as a person, and not just you as a scientist. No matter what you choose to do next, that can make all the difference.

    Dr Stefanie Mack
    Postdoctoral Bye Fellow in Earth Sciences, Murray Edwards College