I still remember getting an email when I was a senior at the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2019 about a last-minute opportunity to do research in the Arctic for my PhD in Microbiology. I wasn’t particularly adventurous or well-traveled, but the opportunity sounded so exciting. I skipped all my classes for the day to write my application and submitted it that night. To my surprise, I was accepted! The next six months were a whirlwind; I moved to Florida, started learning about microbial ecology for the first time, and prepared for my first field season in Alaska the following summer. Little did I know the world would change in March 2020.
The cancellation of my first field season due to COVID-19 wasn’t too devastating. We were able to switch field sites and have a brief week sampling a mountain glacier in the state of Washington. Plus, I would still be spending the next few summers in Greenland, which is where I really wanted to go! I was also able to spend several months processing old data from Alaska while anxiously waiting to collect my own samples. I finally made it to the start of my lab’s 2021 field season in Greenland. The first team was preparing to fly out while I was among the second half of the team going a month later. Then we got the most disappointing email: our field season was canceled. For the second time in two years, my research plans were completely ruined by COVID-19, and I was devastated.
After going back and forth on how to handle this, I decided to push through. Instead of waiting around to go to the field and feeling bad for myself, I started considering myself an Arctic researcher. I completed my PhD qualifying exams, started writing a paper using my lab’s old genomic sequencing data, and applied for grants to fund additional projects. I connected to others in my field by presenting my work at the APECS online conference and the AGU Fall Meeting. I even went to a Polar Evolutionary Genomics Workshop where I got to meet other early career researchers in similar situations. When people asked me what I study, I said microbes in Alaska and Greenland–it didn’t matter that I hadn’t been there yet.
Polar fieldwork is so exciting, yet so unpredictable. Field seasons can be impacted by pandemics, weather, government relations, funding, and so many other factors. I recommend establishing yourself in your field by presenting your work at conferences, attending workshops, and connecting to fellow researchers, regardless of the status of your fieldwork. Above all else, I encourage others to push through the tough times and go after your goals. It took three years, but here I am, finally in Greenland!
Cryolist (for workshop opportunities): https://lists.cryolist.org/mailman/listinfo/cryolist
APECS event calendar (for workshop, conference, and networking opportunities): https://www.apecs.is/events/polar-and-alpine-events-calendar.html
American Geophysical Union fall meeting: https://www.agu.org/Fall-Meeting
Quincy Faber is a 3rd year PhD candidate in Microbiology and Cell Science at the University of Florida (UF). Her work focuses on microbial biogeochemical cycling in supraglacial environments in Alaska and Greenland. She is a UF Water Institute Graduate Fellow, which is a program that provides training in interdisciplinary water research and in communication/civic engagement.