1,000 Gentoo penguins, four humans and no running water: 2017 alumna Kirsty Dick reveals what it's like to run a historic base in Antarctica.
Classical and Middle East Studies
|Year of graduation||2017|
Where are you at the moment?
I am currently at home in Cambridge having made a hasty escape from Argentina to Chile and back to the UK in mid-March when the scale of the current situation became clear.
Your time at the University
Edinburgh was always first choice for me, being one of my favourite cities in the world and with its proximity to mountains and sea I knew this was where I wanted to be. The choice between applying for a geography related course or ancient history was trickier however, as it felt that the paths each could lead me down would be very different. My fascination for the ancient world won out though, a decision I have never regretted.
I added a twist to my degree title in my first semester, by including Middle Eastern history, politics, gender studies and Arabic language into my studies alongside classical Greece and Rome - definitely my finest move as a Fresher! This ability to have flexibility within your degree was something else that attracted me to Edinburgh, as I had real freedom to tailor my studies to my own interests and discover subjects I wouldn’t necessarily have found otherwise.
Many of my most enduring memories and friendships at Edinburgh come from four years of fun in the Women’s Hockey Club, where the team atmosphere within the club built the most amazing community and provided an incredible outlet from the stresses of essays, exams and dissertations. Getting to know students from many academic years and subject areas within the university was also very special – here I met some of my closest friends whom I doubt I would have met otherwise!
Your experiences since leaving the University
While living in the library as I rushed to finish my dissertation and final essays in my fourth year, I wrote an application for a thoroughly unique job opportunity that I had known about for a few years. I applied, confidently assuming it would come to nothing, but with the mindset of ‘let’s see what happens anyway’. Four weeks later I was invited by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust to join eleven others at a two-day selection course to choose a team of four to run a historic base in Antarctica called Port Lockroy. As fate and exam timetables would have it, I had to forego my place that year as my finals fell on exactly the same days. No to worry – there was always next year!
I have found that my best experiences have always come when I least expect them, and sure enough, as I waited to reapply for Port Lockroy, I found myself working with Madam Tussaud’s in their Costume Department (where I still work freelance) and researching for a 3D printing project destined for Beijing. Absolutely not where I expected to find myself, but what an amazing curveball that was!
When the time finally came, I was selected to be part of the Port Lockroy team and my goodness was it worth the wait. In November 2018 I headed to south and spent the next four months living and working on a 400m2 island on the Antarctic Peninsula, with three others, no running water, the most incredible views imaginable and 1,000 Gentoo penguins.
Postponing Antarctica at the time felt like the letting an opportunity go when it was within my grasp, but waiting that year opened new doors and experiences to me that I will be forever grateful not to have missed. I now work as a Lecturer and Polar Expedition Guide on small expedition ships in Antarctica, thanks to the connections I made during my time at Port Lockroy.
So in the end, my work now combines both history and geography, despite being able to choose only one as my degree subject.
I have found that my best experiences have always come when I least expect them...
Share your Covid-19 experience
My work focuses primarily around the tourism sector, so my colleagues and I find ourselves in very uncertain times regarding the future of ship based expedition tourism, when it might realistically recommence and what it might look like when it does.
For me this period of lockdown was always planned as downtime after eleven weeks of solid work at the start of the year, but looking ahead I am certainly considering how my next year to 18 months might look if Antarctic tourism doesn’t bounce back in time for the next austral summer season. So far, a Spanish and a calligraphy course are underway, but certainly I plan to use this time to learn new skills I might not have otherwise had time for if Covid-19 hadn’t pressed pause on the world.
Expect the unexpected, and when the unexpected arrives, say yes! This applies to life at university as well as afterwards – explore experiences that you might not think of as ‘your cup of tea’ because you might well be pleasantly surprised.
Never think that doors are closing behind you because of a choice you’re making now, the routes to reach that door are simply shifting. And that new route could be the best you ever took.
UK Antarctic Heritage Trust (external link)
Profile submitted May 2020