Career Break to Antarctica – Part 2
In “Career Break to Antarctica: Part 1” Keith Martin beautifully described his arrival to Antarctica. How did he make the adventure happen?
I have never been one to give up on my dreams easily, so I started looking for other ways to get to Antarctica. Everything I found, from the cruises to mountaineering trips on ski-equipped planes, was exclusively reserved for wealthy travelers. I got my break when I came across a news story that talked about the research going on in Antarctica. That article led me to the website for the U.S. Antarctic Program (currently www.usap.gov), which, in turn, led me to the website for Raytheon Polar Services, the scientific support contractor for the U.S. Antarctic Program. I devoured every tidbit of information I could find regarding the Antarctic Program and working in Antarctica and quickly decided that I was going to work down there. The problem was solved, sort of…
There was no question about whether or not I was qualified for the jobs down there, since there were job postings from dishwashers and janitors all the way up to engineers and helicopter pilots, but getting those jobs proved to be another problem. The first year I applied to all of the jobs that I was most excited about: Field Camp Manager, Search and Rescue/Field Training and Equipment Staff, Antenna Rigger – All jobs that would get me out in the field exploring the amazing wilderness. I also applied to the engineering positions, since I am an engineer, but I ignored all of the ‘unskilled’ jobs. In hindsight it is no surprise that I didn’t get a single call.
I changed my tactics for the next hiring season and I bought a plane ticket to Denver, Colorado and attended the job fair at Raytheon Polar Services’ headquarters. I was excited as I walked down a long hallway filled with large pictures from ‘The Ice”, as Antarctica is known among program participants, to the conference room that the job fair was in. There I spent a few hours talking with everyone. I ignored the long lines for the food services and janitorial departments and went straight for the fun stuff. The recruiter at the table hiring for the research vessels had to stifle a laugh as he explained that my experience was not good enough for even the most basic of jobs on the ships and explained that it would be much easier for me to get into the program by going through the ‘unskilled’ jobs. I got the same speech from the ‘field camp’ person. I had a great conversation with the man at the facilities table, who hires the engineers and I had several other ‘promising’ discussions with several other tables. When I had talked with everyone except the food services and janitorial tables I decided that my work was done and I left.
A few weeks went by and then I got a call from the engineering department. We talked extensively about a job at the South Pole for the winter. I thought that the interview had gone well, but they ended up finding someone that was more qualified for the job. I got no response from the other recruiters and I was without my Antarctic job for the second year in a row. By that time I had already set my departure date for my career break. I was ‘retiring’ on my thirtieth birthday, which gave me one more chance with my Antarctic aspirations. I spent the year collecting more information on the jobs and on how people got work down there. I even talked to a person who regularly worked down there. Everything seemed to mirror what the man at the research vessel table had told me – Don’t ignore the unskilled jobs!
I walked into the job fair the following year and went straight to the tables for food services and janitorial staff and I talked with them for a long time. Then I went to each of the other tables in turn. I gave everyone my resume and talked extensively about the jobs, doing my best to make a good impression. The engineering table had a few really interesting projects on tap for the following winter, so I had my best conversation there. When I had been to all of the other tables I walked over to the tables for the field and vessel jobs and gave them my resume as well, though I knew nothing would come from it, and then I walked out having talked with every recruiter in the room regarding every position they had.
Less than a month later I was sitting in the airport in Jamaica on my way to St. Lucia for my brother’s wedding when my phone rang. The lady on the other end of the line quickly mentioned that they wanted to talk to me about an engineering position for the following winter at McMurdo Station Antarctica and we set up a time, two days later, for a phone interview. I spent two hours on the phone in St. Lucia talking about the job and my skills and then they said that they would get a set of plans in the mail to me – It seemed like I was in!
Shortly after I got home from St. Lucia I got another call from another recruiter. That time I was offered the position of janitor. I explained to the recruiter that I was being considered for the other position also and that it would be my first choice. She told me that she would hold the job for me and check with the other recruiter to see if they wanted to hire me – I never heard back from her.
After a lifetime of dreaming and three years of silly job-hunting mistakes I had two job offers in hand and Antarctica in my sights. I excitedly flew through the exhaustive physical qualification process, which included medical and dental exams and a psychological exam (for winter over positions) and then I started to get everything ready for the start of my career break. I went down to the ice debt free and had one of the grandest adventures of my lifetime. I played in ferocious Antarctic storms, watched penguins and seals play in town, watched the aurora australis dance across the polar night and made friends with some of the finest people I have ever met. As an added benefit to my Antarctic adventure I managed to save every penny I earned down there (excluding tax, of course), which has financed five years of amazing travel for me, including one of those expensive Antarctic cruises that seemed so elusive to me at the beginning of my journey!
You can read more about Keith’s Antarctica experiences on his blog: Explorer Keith.