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[PhD] First Day

March 4, 2013


After a little over a week travelling around southern Australia (Tasmania is lovely, but I can take or leave Sydney), I have arrived in Melbourne to start my PhD. At present, I’m staying in a retrofitted garage owned by a local friend’s boss. It is not exactly salubrious accomodation. Nevertheless, the group of Afghani refugees occupying the rather similar bungalow next door (where we visit when we need running water) have been extremely hospitable, inviting us over for dinner several times.

One of two supervisors has been met and chatted with, a bunch of introductions have been made (the other PhDs here seem excellent), and and a monstrous pile of paperwork has been handed to me by various people. I shall spend the next week filling it out, correcting it, and running around the campus giving it to people. A few surprises have popped up. The most pressing is that the Ashmore Reef I thought I would be studying (i.e., the one Google Maps knows as Ashmore Reef, corroborated by several atlases with which I am acquainted) is in fact a different Ashmore Reef to the one I will be studying. Instead of working just south of Papua New Guinea, I will be working just south of Timor.

Ashmore reefs

Not the Ashmore Reef by the red exclamation mark.
The other Ashmore Reef, over by the green arrow!

I can’t say that this makes much difference to my plans ā€“ but it does clear up the mystery of how seabirds could breed on a reef that does not break the sea surface. I had been suffering some apprehension over that question.

A second surprise is the intensity of sampling planned. I had assumed that, since the field site is so far off, sampling would be restricted to maybe one month per year of intensive work, with the rest of the time spent on analysis and readings. Not so. There are to be two major sampling trips per year on charter vessels, each lasting three weeks, with (I gather) the whole lab. Additionally, there will be three-week rotations to the island for much of the rest of the year, where a small number of lab members will keep the whole lab’s sampling ticking over. At the extreme, this might be a three-weeks-on, three-weeks-off kind of rotation, though the exact timetable is yet to be worked out.

The first trip out leaves in early April. Needless to say, I’m thrilled ā€“ but I suspect I’ll need to get my tropical immunisations quick-smart, and if the rumours are true, I may want to look into shaving every inch of my body to combat the heat. We’ll see.


From → Scientist

  1. Sandy Bartle permalink

    Yes, it will be warm.but there are regular trade winds. The little-known petrels passing by from Japan to the Indian Ocean (Bulwer’s Petrel, Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel & Streaked Shearwaters) will provide plenty of ID challenges. Make sure you can get hold of some very good binoculars & Onley & Scofield’s field guide to the albatrosses and petrels of the world.

    Keep any seabird bodies that are washed up & give them to Glenn Storr at the West Australian Museum, Perth, who will be pleased to have them & ID them for you. Tell him I said so!

    All the best,


    PS Never rely on Google. I knew where the reefs were. Disputed between Indonesia & Australia, (illegally) fished by Indonesian fishermen who get locked up on Australia (a nasty business!), and believed to be surrounded by waters rich in oil and/or gas – hence the dispute. The Timor Sea is also the only breeding-place of the Southern Bluefin Tuna, and is a global hotspot of marine diversity.


    • I hear we’ll be piggybacking on other people for some of the later sampling trips. I’ve thought for a while that, no matter who we piggyback with, those will be interesting trips.

  2. Sandy Bartle permalink

    You will need your big hat!


  3. Stella permalink

    Hehe the shaving sounds entertaining, though it might affect your homeless image.

    Every summer I bemoan the leg-shaving rigmarole, while simultaneously wanting to start shaving my head to let the heat out. I can’t win against myself.

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