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Conducting research at sea
Scientists can spend anything from one day to a week on a commercial fishing vessel conducting research and putting ideas into practice, as Suzy Black explains:
Working on a fishing boat is really rewarding – it gives you contact with the industry and allows you to see, in real time, the constraints of what you’re trying to do. Taking your research and putting it into practice can throw up all kinds of issues – what looks great in the lab may simply not be possible on a boat. Being on the boat lets you talk to the skipper and the crew and really understand their issues and how you might be able to help to make their lives easier or just answer some of their pressing problems. It can also provide that “a-ha!” moment, where you see something and suddenly get ideas for your research.
Being away on a research vessel is a real privilege, but it’s hard work and you’re in an extremely hazardous environment. You’re not only on your feet all day but you’re also on a moving boat which just adds to the physical pressures. Broken sleep and fatigue mean you have to keep your wits about you. Finding space to carry out research onboard small vessels can be a challenge but improvisation is the key. You’re away from your home and family, and you get a bit smelly – but so is everyone else, so that’s ok! Once you get back to port, the work doesn’t stop – you’ll have samples and several days’ worth of testing to be done before you can take a break.
Generally though, being out on the boats is great – you really get to see where your science can have an impact and you’re always learning something new. Being able to apply your research in the real world makes you really feel like you’re earning your keep.