Craig Aumack

Craig Aumack, a PhD student in Biology, has recently conducted research as part of UAB in Antarctica. Craig and fellow PhD student, Philip Bucolo, were able to spend valuable research time in Antarctica along with faculty members Charles Amsler, James McClintock, and Margaret Amsler.

As with all of our Spotlights, Craig and Philip answered questions regarding their UAB Graduate School experiences and Craig’s answers are below. However, UAB in Antarctica is so fascinating, one must visit the website, http://www.antarctica.uab.edu/, in order to get a better understanding of what it’s like to conduct research in such an environment.


GS:

What is Antarctica like?  In other words, are there other people besides those involved with UAB in Antarctica?

CA:

There are other people on station, the current population is in the 40s but will drop to 22 in a couple of weeks when the next boat leaves.  Antarctica is beautiful, there are plenty of scenic views and co-inhabiting wildlife all around including penguins, seals, whales, and other flying birds. The people here treat each other like an extended family and there is a huge sense of camaraderie. The station is comfortable and an excellent place to conduct scientific research.

GS:

How did you get chosen to do this?

CA:

Both Philip and I are graduate students in Biology at UAB. We chose the lab because we both have a vested interest in marine algae. I started in polar work while completing my Master's of Science degree at The University of Texas.  There I worked on algae beds in the high Arctic. I fell in love with polar communities and was determined to work in Antarctica next.  Dr. Charles Amsler had been doing outstanding Antarctic algal research for a while at UAB so it seemed like a great place to study. He accepted me into the program and my Antarctic experience began.

GS:

What do you do when you aren't working?

CA:

I wrote a blog on this on the website, http://www.antarctica.uab.edu/, (just for the fun of it). I point out the many recreational activities people have at their disposal. Since I get a steady dose of SCUBA diving and dive tending, I get to use the boats on a daily basis.  Because of that fact, I often do not go out small boating during my "off" time. When I am not working, I tend to be reading, working out in the gym (a relatively new activity for me), and playing cards/pool in the bar.

GS:

Do you do anything for fun?

CA:

Here all people on station are so close that everyday activities like meals, house chores, and meetings tend to be fun. It really does not feel too much like work at all.

GS:

What is your research?

CA: 

Wow, I have written a couple different blogs about this. To sum it up in a few short sentences, I am interested in the chemical ecology of the surrounding area and how natural products produced in algae mediate relationships between organisms in the local community. The internal chemistry of some of these algae can have significant effects on predator consumption, bacterial growth rates, the fouling capabilities of diatoms and other epi/endophytic algae (small species of algae that growth on or even inside other larger algae species).

GS:

Are you helping other scientists there or are you working on separate projects?

CA:

The members of our immediate science team all help each other out on a daily basis. We tend to tackle projects as a team rather than individuals, although we each have our own individual responsibilities. We are always happy to help the other science teams in any way we can but usually each of the science teams here are organized enough to accomplish their goals without outside assistance.

GS:

Is Antarctica everything you expected?

CA:

Everything and more.

GS:

Have you had any life-changing experiences while there?

CA: 

The whole Antarctica expedition is a life-changing experience.  I did have an incident earlier in the season in which a leopard seal chased me out of the water while I was SCUBA diving. He was most likely curious but it still scared me. My fairly rapid accent due to seal recall resulted in a burst blood vessel in my ear.  I did not like that too much, and it is something I will remember.

GS:

What made you choose UAB?

CA:

My desire to stay in polar sciences and work with Dr. Amsler.

GS:

What are you plans after graduation?

CA:

Continue conducting polar sciences.  I hope to get a post-doctorate position working on polar algae and that continue on to run my own Marine Botany or Phycology lab.

GS:

Who has been your greatest influence at UAB and why?

CA:

Too tough a question, it depends on the specific topic.  Broadly, I would have to say that Dr. Amsler and Dr. Jim McClintock have been my greatest influences because of their overall guidance in my studies. Although, I have drawn a great deal of inspiration from other graduate students and professors in the department as well.

GS:

Have you written or will you write a paper covering your research?

CA: 

Yes, I published my Master's research in Journal of Phycology (will be published in Oct. 2007 issue). I will be writing up a manuscript for publication on the experiments I am currently working on but it will not be ready for submission until early 2008.

GS:

Do you have any advice/wisdom for other graduate students?

CA:

Just be prepared for what you are getting into. Work in a lab while doing undergraduate studies so you understand the full implications of conducting practical science. There are no tests and formulating hypotheses, carrying out experiments, writing up manuscripts, and finishing your project ultimately comes down to you.  It is a great learning experience and offers many rewards but can be draining.  The hours, although flexible, are usually long and arduous.