Tamsin – Antarctic Meteorologist

Future Morph were lucky enough to catch up with Tamsin on a rare break in the UK.

If you enjoy being outdoors, travelling and early mornings, then read on – this could be the ideal career for you!

What attracted you to this job?

The unknown, mainly. I wanted an adventure. Also, I’m addicted to snowboarding and have always loved all things to do with snow and ice.

I also find the science fascinating and like the idea of contributing to something I consider worthwhile, but if I’m being totally honest, that was probably a secondary consideration after the lifestyle!

What does your typical day involve?

I usually have to start pretty early, 7am with my first weather observation. Then I grab some breakfast and head out to launch a weather balloon. Later in the day I have more weather observations to complete, snow samples to collect, instruments to fix or perhaps field work which involves visiting remote sites where we have installed automatic weather stations. I love the day to day variation in my job.

What gives you the most job satisfaction?

Making things happen that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. I find it really satisfying when I can put in a little extra effort and make a project become a reality. I also really enjoy communicating science by visiting schools and just by talking to people about what I do.

What do your friends and family think about your job?

Apart from my Mum, who wishes I’d spend a bit more time in the same hemisphere as her, they mostly find it pretty exciting! In general I find about half the people I speak to say ‘wow that’s amazing, I’d love to do that’ and the other half say ‘what on earth do you want to go there for, and for that long!’

My friends and family know me though, so they understand and are happy for me.

Tell us more about your environment in terms of work-life balance

During the Antarctic summer season I’m pretty busy with work from 7am until 9pm most days, although I usually have at least one day off a week. That sounds like a lot of work but many of my tasks don’t really feel like work at all. Sometimes I might go flying in a ski-plane, land near to a beautiful, isolated mountain range, dig some instruments out of the snow and then enjoy a stunning view on the way home!

In the winter time, the working day is more like 9-5, although of course, science never sleeps and if an instrument breaks in the middle of the night I sometimes have to get out of bed to reset it. Still, there is plenty of time to enjoy the other activities on offer here, such as ice climbing or weaving in and out of icebergs in a little power boat. When the weather is bad (quite a lot of the time) I play the piano or climb on the small indoor wall to relax.

How did you get to where you are today? (i.e. qualifications and career route)

I did mainly science A-levels (maths, Physics, Biology and French) and then a degree in Physical Sciences at University College London.

I worked for a year at the London Science Museum doing an entirely unrelated job, enthusing kids about science, before starting at the British Antarctic Survey. Working in Antarctica had been a dream of mine ever since I first read about it in New Scientist in my first year of university but I never really believed I would get the chance to go there.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of following your path?

If you really want the job, just go for it. Apply and if you get rejected ask for feedback, listen to it and keep applying, don’t be discouraged. Multiple applications demonstrate real enthusiasm for the job and that is looked upon very favorably, a significant proportion of people get the job after their third or fourth application. Believe me, it’s worth the effort!

One other thing that’s worth bearing in mind is that for a job like mine, practical experience is just as important as academic qualifications. Any job you’ve done that demonstrates an ability to get your hands dirty and solve problems will definitely count in your favour.

How well is your job compensated? What is the starting salary for someone in your field, and how much can this be expected to rise?

These days the starting salary is around 21,000. It would usually rise by at least 1000 pounds a year for the first few years. This does not sound like a huge amount of money but as my job involves spending over half of my time in the Antarctic where I have my accommodation and food already paid for and very little chance to spend any money at all, you can save a lot more than people earning similar money in the UK.

What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax?

Snowboarding, skiing, climbing, kiting and generally being outdoors as much as possible. I really like learning languages too (sometimes I practice Spanish by talking over the radio to the nearby Argentinian base) and playing piano in the base band.

Have there been any embarrassing moments?

Yes, very many, not sure how many of them I can write about here though! When you live in close confines with a group of people for a long time you get to the stage where you no longer really get embarrassed.

I used to find going to the toilet whilst tied to another person with a rope and with nowhere to hide a bit embarrassing but now I just get on with it. Once, when out camping, I had to go outside to have a pee in a really bad blizzard. Even though it was only exposed for less than a minute, I managed to freeze my bum, literally! I got frostnip, which is the stage before frostbite. That was pretty embarrassing as I had to bare my bum in the tent – it had turned white! It was really painful as it thawed out, I won’t be doing that again in a hurry!


For more information on the British Antarctic Survey where Tamsin works, please click here.