Random thoughts from the Patio

Back home safe and sound, and sitting on my patio. The garden has grown huge in my absence, the weeds aren’t totally awful, and my French press, coffee grinder and good coffee beans have been waiting patiently for my arrival. Life is pretty good. Now, after a good night sleep I am sitting on my back patio marveling at the number of tomatoes my neighbors and I will share, and thinking about our experience last month.

So, a few random thoughts about Polaris III, summer 2010.

This was our best summer yet scientifically. The scope and number of projects was quite impressive given our short time (~3 weeks) to complete them. We have improved our understanding of the role of light and nutrients in the processing of dissolved organic matter, applied a new method to the study of nutrient cycling in streams which has produced interesting, if somewhat confusing, results and expanded our knowledge of aquatic ecosystems in the Kolyma basin to include nutrient concentrations, pCO2 and particulate organic carbon.

The level of collaboration between the US and Russian members of our team has grown stronger with Valentin Spektor, Nikita Zimov, Sergei Zimov, Sergei Davidov and Anya Davidova making strong contributions by sharing ideas and information and mentoring student projects. I think it is obvious that stronger partnerships within our group have greatly improved the quality of the work we are doing.

We have had our first experience with integrating postdocs into our group, and Paul Mann and Jorien Vonk were fantastic additions to our group, both personally and professionally. I hope to see them both back next summer.

Beyond our scientific success, we have also forged some strong personal connections that will last a lifetime. For me, every summer, my family grows bigger and our connections grow stronger. Our students become like my children (well, maybe younger siblings) and my colleagues my brothers and sisters. Each summer is different, but every year, by the end of the trip we linger in each airport saying good-bye to some members of the team, and one hug is never enough. In Cherskiy, it’s the Zimovs and Davidovs. In Yakutsk, it’s Valentin. In Moscow this year, it was Ivan and Jorien. And in Washington, everyone else. It is a bittersweet moment. We all have family, friends and a life to return to that we love (not to mention good restaurants, i.e. Cecil’s in St. Paul), but we have also shared what sometimes seems like a moment in time, an experience that changes all of us, sometimes in fundamental ways. For us older folks, these changes can be pretty subtle, a shift towards a new research direction, a propensity to sing Russian folk songs. For the younger folks, these changes can be quite fundamental and important, maybe even a new life path if they stay true to their final reflections.

What I think is really amazing about all three years of the Polaris Project is the consistently powerful impact it has had on the students and even some of the PI’s (I refer to myself). We are changing lives and setting ourselves on a path that I believe is leading to a significant impact on Arctic ecology and public perceptions of climate change and the role of science. To our students, I say it is up to you to realize the vision and continue to build on what we have started. To all of my colleagues, I say thank you for what has been the best professional experience of my life.

I am sincerely and profoundly grateful to all of you.


3 Responses to “Random thoughts from the Patio”

  1. August 03, 2010 at 8:49 am, Max Janicek said:

    Awesome post Don Juan John. Simply put, for an undergraduate especially, the Polaris Project is the experience of a lifetime. It has been quite bittersweet to follow you guys via the website this summer; I cherish every memory of my own time with Polaris, and it’s the diligent work of all the collaborators that make it such a special experience. As you make your way across Russia and back, each travel leg, each unfamiliar location, each new culture, and the blossoming science are all eye-opening… but it’s the people involved who really make it what it is. I can only grin thinking about the tremendous adventures the crew had this year.

    All of you have put together an opportunity for students that I will forever feel so fortunate to have been a part of. A year later, the valuable lessons I took away from that month in the Siberian Arctic continue to manifest themselves in both my professional and personal life. Polaris doesn’t simply end once you return home to the good old US of A. You carry that stuff with you wherever you go, no matter which doors may open. Polaris4Life.

    ps- sorry about the Cubs.

  2. August 04, 2010 at 7:25 am, Steve Seybold said:

    Welsome back John- Thanks for doing such a great job taking care of your students, and congratulations on your work this summer. It’s nice to know that the Polaris project genetrates such useful research, rather than just being a “junket”.

  3. August 04, 2010 at 9:58 am, Sara Callaway said:

    We’ve really felt privileged just to follow along on the blogs. WHAT an experience for all the participants! Sorry we didn’t get that last minute original bug shirt to you at Dulles airport before you flew out. Hope you didn’t suffer too badly without it!