To continue on from my last post, I am regaling you all with stories of my thesis submission. As Evan pointed out, having a hard deadline is really important because you could go on refining the document for years, for a life time in fact. My carrot at the end of a stick four years long was the opportunity to participate in the Simpson Desert Paleontological Survey. The site was so remote that the only way we could access it….was by walking in with camels. I ask you, who wouldn’t stay up until all hours, forget to include both their acknowledgements page and to reference their own paper, as well as missing a typo in the final sentence*, for such an opportunity? Not me, that is for certain.
I’ll talk more about the dig in next week’s post, this week I’d like to focus on the trek, on the camels, and losing yourself to both. Today, we are walking with purpose.
Andrew Harper is an extraordinary man, as is his partner and expedition artist, Jo Bertini. For the past 18 years, Harps (his common rather than scientific name), has been walking the Australian desert with camels, indeed he and his camels walked the entire Tropic of Capricorn in 1999; all 4637 km of it. He has run camel expeditions both as part of a commercial enterprise but also as part of a not-for-profit organisation that facilitates scientific and ecological survey expeditions into remote regions of the Central deserts. Hence, walking with purpose. Camels are amazing animals. It is true that they can be quite vocal, and they do spit occasionally (the cameleers call it ‘camel pesto’). But I wouldn’t say they are bad-tempered, no more than Greek people. I always thought Greek people were constantly fighting with one another. When I learned to speak Greek I discovered that this was simply the way in which the language is spoken; more often than not they are discussing the weather. Belly aching aside, each animal carried approximately 250 kg, but the big animals can carry twice that. They are responsive to humans and CLEARLY looked to Harps as their leader. Camels also travel as a group. We only ever tied up half the camels at night, as the others simply would not leave if the whole group couldn’t go together.
And how did I manage to score such an awesome trip? Apparently as well as knowing a thing or two about compound-specific isotopes in deep-sea coral I also know how to smile for the camera? Anyone who knows me, also knows that I get quite a kick out of public speaking, so when the camera goes on, so do I….There is a distinct possibility that the work I did won’t make it to the screen, however I am MORE than happy with just the memories, thank you ABC. For me it was just the most extraordinary way to finish off what I found to be quite an arduous finish **. It is such a cliché but when I walked in I was Kelly “I just handed in my PhD” Strzepek. On about day three, when bearing witness to more stars than I thought possible I was thankful that the desert is so dark, so that no one could see me cry. For eight years my studies had defined who I was, and now they were over. Who the devil was I now? The camels really can carry a lot, and they took both my physical and emotional baggage. By day four I just stopped collecting the latter and we left that somewhere out in the Simpson. I walked out of the desert Kelly “I can take on the world, but first I should probably have a shower” Strzepek.
If I publish, if I don’t publish, no one cares except for a very small group of metric driven academic staff and my home institute. This suits their agenda, it does not have to suit mine. If I have many corrections, no one will know (except all of you because I’ll probably blog about it) and my thesis, in corrected form, will be all that anyone will see. But they won’t, because while this research consumed my entire life, it is of very little interest to anyone else. I’m not being facetious, it’s a fact. My research was not earth shattering, but we do understand a small part of the earth just a little better because of it. It was not the magnum opus that perhaps I would have liked, but I did it with minimal assistance and it is a solid piece of work. It is imperfect, and so am I. And that is just fine by me.
For those interested, I have put together a wee album of some of the snaps from the Simpson Desert and the surrounding environs. You can find it in the photo gallery or just click here.
* I have a german friend who had two typos in the title of his thesis. In fairness he was writing in English. I have no excuse, except that I’m a bit of an idiot. And I only realised it when I was responding to The lost scientist in the comments of the last post…
** On that note, can I say that while it was tough and while I was very ready for it to go in, I looked on my research with nothing but absolute fondness in the end. I have always felt nothing but privilege being able to complete a PhD. The people around me have been endlessly frustrating, but the research, I have always loved.