Interview with Colin Morrison

by Cherie Winner

tim shank

How did you come to be on this cruise?
I got an email when I was in Quito, Ecuador, from one of my bosses saying this opportunity was presenting itself and that he had put in a good word for me, and if I wanted to take it, I could. And he suggested that I shouldn’t pass it up because it may not come along again, at least at this point in my young career.

Why were you in Ecuador?
I was in Ecuador working for my other advisor, doing a big caterpillar collection project looking at speciation as it relates to plant chemistry, parasitism, and geography in the Andes.

Why did you come—were you interested in oceanography, or was it just the opportunity to have a cool research experience with a good organization?
It was a little of both. Ever since I was a little kid I wanted to have a job that had something to do with the ocean. You know, I said ‘marine biologist’ when people asked what I wanted to be because it was this sort of sexy, romantic idea. I always loved being around the water. It made me happy. And I always wanted to do my part to help make the world a better place, so I felt that a good way to do it was to get involved in marine biology. But it is a little bit of both. It is great to get the opportunity to do this with a really legitimate institution. It’s just another opportunity to get ideas of routes of study I might like to take. Just testing out the waters, no pun intended.

Earlier you told me you really enjoyed the entomology work. Has your experience on the cruise swayed you toward marine science as a career?
It’s tough to say at this point. The entomology gig was cool because it was my first, ‘honeymoon’ experience with fieldwork, and it was a really great one. I think it would be tough to beat no matter what I do. But since being here, it’s definitely put me back to a 50:50, middle of the road point, but that’s OK. I don’t have to rush into a decision any time soon.

You seem to work intense, very long hours here.
It’s off and on. Like right now, it’s been a long spurt. I’ve pretty much been up since this time yesterday, preparing for everything that came up to now. So this was a long day, but tomorrow, for example, I just have to do some cleaning and pretty much prepare some things for the next Jason dive, but it won’t be as stressful. I’ll be able to take my time a little bit more and have a little down time to read or play guitar or finish up my papers.

Overall, I’m more busy back at home. Every day it’d be like two or three jobs plus school and trying to fit in whatever else. Here I’ll have an off day and then a really, really busy day and then another off day and a really busy day.

How does cruise compare with your experience in Ecuador? Was the schedule more regular there?
It was a little more regular there. Here things are definitely more subject to change, so you kinda have to be ready to go at any moment and do whatever’s asked of you at the time. Sometimes it means no sleep or no food, but that’s OK. You get really focused. You really want to work well and you want to get it done, and you kind of get in this battle mode and just push through.

What’s been the best thing about the experience for you so far?
Learning a whole lot about areas of study that I have no experience with—the geology, the microbiology, the chemical cycling—and all these techniques that I haven’t and many people haven’t had the experience of working with—the SID, Jason.

And today you got to help recover Jason
I’ve helped the last two times. And I’ve helped put it in the water, too. I’ve helped the engineers a little bit. It’s little things, but they see you as someone that’s useful enough to help them out. And just being accepted by the three groups of people on the ship [ship’s crew, Jason team, and science party] and being able to get along with all the groups, is gratifying.

Tell me about your minor in Political Science.
I’ve always had an interest in statecraft and how political systems work. I sleep better at night having a better understanding of how decisions are made, and maybe being able to see a little beyond what you’re being told. I feel that often there’s a huge disconnect between politicians and the media, and scientists. You know, scientists always want their work to speak for itself but the fact is, it doesn’t. Try reading scientific papers! If you’re a politician, it’s just a bunch of jargon. You have to have people who understand how politics works and are able to bridge the gap in order for there to be consistency and cohesion between the people that can make it happen for you and the people that are doing the research.

Is there a down side to the cruise for you?
The food’s great and I love having things cooked for me, but I kinda miss cooking. My girlfriend’s really busy, too—she’s doing a Ph.D. in entomology in one of the labs I’m working in, and often the only time we have to hang out is when we make dinner together. It’s kind of a special time. I miss that.