Looking for a candidate who enjoys hiking and camping for weeks on end (showers are monthly), who can carry tens of pounds of rocks, and who can cook a dinner resulting in leftovers that are the best kind of lunch. Spanish, Quechua, and/or Aymara skills are a plus. Ability to engage in stimulating conversation without revisiting the same subjects on a biweekly basis is also a plus. Finally, the ideal candidate will complain just enough so that I don't feel like the biggest wuss, and I won't be called out for my own complaining.
Now that I've been looking for a field assistant after having been one myself, I'd like to think that I know the sorts of qualities I should be aware of. I lacked some of the most crucial skills, such as cooking (in retrospect, I can see why my rendition of the traditional German dish of asparagus wrapped in pancakes might have been a risky choice). On the other hand, I excelled in complaining enough that Akshay, the grad student I worked for, probably never felt like the weakest link. In a previous post, I talked about my experiences as a field assistant during Akshay's two month field season in Namibia, but this post is more about coming full circle and planning my own field season.
Just over a week ago, Akshay and I, along with another graduate student, Jenn, spent several hours interviewing eight candidates for positions as a field assistant. It was my first time interviewing anybody for any position, and it felt pretty weird to be on the other side of the table. During the interviews, we each gave brief spiels about our research for the interviewees so that they could develop a sense of their project preferences. One of the best things I got out of the interviews was a super concise project description, so now when anybody asks me what I'll be doing, I think I have a decent answer:
The idea is that subtle, periodic fluctuations in Earth's orbit change global climate; these cycles have for the past 2.5 million years paced the waxing and waning of the ice ages. How these orbital forcings change as humans pump CO2 into the atmosphere and melt away ice, however, is unknown. We can look to the past for the answer, and the late Cretaceous is a good analog for the future, since 70 million years ago there was more atmospheric CO2 and less ice than today. I'll be studying lake deposits in Bolivia from that time period, which is also when the dinosaurs went extinct, and I'll be trying to detect these orbital signals in the rock layers to see which ones, if any, are important, and compare them to today.
I'm really excited about this research, especially since it will involve everything I loved about working with Akshay in Namibia: camping, relative wilderness, and cool forms of data collection, like drone-flying. Most of all, I'm excited to begin contributing to science with my own research.