Special edition: An undergraduates' perspective....

Today we have a special point of view, written by Lissette from Heriot-Watt University...... 

You don’t usually expect to find an undergraduate on a research vessel among a 20-something strong team of scientists. Nevertheless, as my dissertation focused on the biodiversity of the cold-water coral reefs of Mingulay, I have managed to incorporate myself on the James Cook for everyone’s delight and help. My role as a research assistant means I get to help everyone on the famous night shift.

My nightly chores are variable, giving me the fantastic opportunity to be involved in everything that goes on during my working hours. One example of this is helping Helen with CTD water sampling, as well as sample processing for studying the water column and the carbonate chemistry of the visited sites. I have also been involved in helping Team Coral with studies relating to ocean acidification and cold-water coral physiology, as well as the protein work conducted by Penny. Additionally I’ve helped with benthic sampling, which means sorting and sieving mud that is brought up by the box core.

Box coring also resulted in us getting some solitary corals on board. This has allowed me to carry out a small study of my own, measuring this yet-to-be identified species’ respiration rates and possible changes in these in response to exposure to elevated water temperature in the “mini-oceans”. On top of this, due to Helen being busy with her own work, I was able to help with another short-term study on sea-urchins, to look at their response to varying CO2 levels, so we can get an idea of how they would respond to ocean acidification.

As this cruise is mostly filled with a bunch of young scientists, such as PhD students and post-docs, everyone has been keen to share their knowledge and reasoning behind their experiments while teaching me different sampling techniques. I have also learned a lot about how academia works and about the endless amount of things that can be researched and that if you’re not sure how to tackle your research, a technician will be able to help you! On a wider scale, the science occurring on James Cook is truly multi-disciplinary, therefore providing me with a wholesome comprehension of our oceans as well as taking me beyond marine biology (which is what I’ve studied) to oceanography and the technical processes such as exploration by the ROV and seabed mapping. While talking about the ROV, it must be said that the scenery it has provided us with, through its cameras, is phenomenal, allowing us to see the beauty of the cold-water reefs and the rich biodiversity they support.

As a conclusion I must admit my life on board has been quite exciting. This once in a life-time opportunity has taught me a lot, inspired me in relation to my future scientific path and provided me with a lot of knowledge on the state-of-art environmental issues and how we can tackle these through science!