Reflections: Life on Board

Author: Courtney Tierney

Over the last 30 days of sampling and troubleshooting, sunset and moon-rise watching, ping-pong and card game playing, hacky-sacking and hammock laying, Spanish speaking, oil rig discussing, and stargazing, I have had the time to get to know some truly amazing people aboard this ship. I am so grateful to have been able to join them—working together to raise awareness about ocean acidification and collecting data that can make a difference.

Never would I have imagined myself here when I am only half-way done with my undergraduate studies. I had just turned 20 before boarding the Ron Brown (which coincidentally also turned 20 in the same month) and had a small I’m-an-adult-now life crisis. I’m passionate about what I study but have only an extremely broad idea about where I want my life to go. All I know is I love coral and want to explore the world. So, I have been investigating how each of these people—of all ages and backgrounds—ended up aboard one of NOAA’s global research vessels. I know that I can learn from their decisions, guiding my search for my own dream job (whatever that may be).

One scientist has just finished her undergraduate schooling (where I will be in two short years) and doesn’t have a solid plan either. I’m not alone! A crew member around our age who spent 5 years in the Navy right after high school is trying to figure out his next step as well. We have young engineers from the same military college, young NOAA Corps members who quickly moved up the ranks, and a large portion of the scientists are graduate students about to begin their careers. Some other crew members started out in the army and plan to further their education. Some of our scientists are currently completing their post-doctorate research, while this cruise is just a regular part of the job for others. There are crew members who are 30 and ready to settle down, some who have just started their families, and others whose youngest children are older than me!

From New Jersey, Mexico, Virginia, Cuba, Ohio, China, California, Spain, Pennsylvania, France, North Carolina, the Philippines, Georgia, the list goes on… each person I have met has taken a different path to get here. Everyone has been so open and willing to share their advice and experiences along with their personal lives. I have heard stories of tragedies and miracles; friends, families, and hometowns; past loves and future aspirations. I have learned that it certainly takes the right mentality to spend so much time at sea away from a traditional lifestyle.

I love being able to learn something new from someone new each day. Everyone has also given me insight on their past, present, and some hopefully future careers; some I never would have pictured myself doing don’t seem so out of reach anymore. From the knowledge I have coalesced from about 50 people, I have realized how many career options, traditional or not, are available and how many ways there are to get to them. Although I still don’t know exactly where I want to end up, I’d like to thank everyone for helping me figure out where I’d like to go along the way.

As our trip comes to a close after over a month of being suspended between the deep blue of the Gulf below and the stretch of Milky Way above us, I am still mesmerized by each. Unfortunately, I will have to say goodbye to these sights and these friends for now. Hopefully our paths will cross again when we all will certainly have more adventures to tell.


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