Originally from Qingdao, a city in China famed for its scenic ocean view and popular beer brand, I spent four years in college studying underwater acoustics and acoustic signal processing. Not far into my college years did I realize that I was not as interested in underwater acoustics as I am in its application to oceanographic research. That was when I decided to go to graduate school to study oceanography.
On a hot summer afternoon in 2008, as a fresh college graduate who had rarely spent a day away from his hometown, I found myself on a plane landing at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Two months before, I had been admitted to University of Georgia to pursue a master degree in marine sciences. Growing restless in my seat and overwhelmed by the jitters in my body, I was wondering what made me decide to come to this remote country to study oceanography while the ocean is only 5 min walk from home. I could not think of any reason at that moment but I knew that I was about to embark on quite an adventure in my life.
The real adventure started two weeks later, when I found myself on R/V Atlantis in transit to the Juan de Fuca Ridge located 300 km seaward from Oregon State. My then advisor Daniela Di Iorio thought it a terrific idea for me to start my study with a research cruise to get my data and sea legs. Culture-shocked, seasick, and dismayed by the strange food on board, I spent the first three days rolling on my bunk hoping the cruise would end the next day. The cruise did not end until three weeks later, but I finally got my sea legs on day 4 and was able to function and start the learning process. Thereafter came the Alvin dive! Daniela granted me the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to dive down to the hydrothermal vent field in Alvin. The dive started early in the morning. The descent went smoothly. You could see fish occasionally swimming past the observing window and the many tiny twinkling sea creatures during the first tens of meters before everything grew dim until it was pitch dark except for Alvin’s lone light. We touched bottom two hours later and the pilot turned on the lights on both sides of Alvin. The seafloor unveiled itself to me and there were pale fish and large crabs moving above the jagged terrain. Alvin then started navigating its way to the hydrothermal vent field. Trent Moore, a technician working for Daniela and my dive bubby, used a multi-beam sonar mounted on Alvin to scan hydrothermal plume images while I busied myself taking photos using the camera rigged outside the submersible. I marveled at the hush alien world unfolding in front of my eyes. It was an eye-opening experience to see the many exotic creatures and the black smoke shooting from hydrothermal vents. It was late afternoon when the dive ended and Alvin was winched back on deck. There were many people waiting on deck along with two buckets of ice water. They poured those buckets of ice water on my head to celebrate the completion of my first Alvin dive. The cold water sent chills through my spine and that feeling was forever engraved in my memory. I spent the following two years at UGA processing the reams of data collected on this cruise and writing my thesis. I was awarded my master degree in marine sciences in Dec 2010.
Two days into 2011, I arrived at Rutgers to continue my study of oceanography as a Ph.D. student. Now, three years later, I am a Ph.D. candidate determined to get his degree in another year. I felt grateful and privileged for having had great advisors who have been guiding and inspiring me throughout my journey. Daniela is probably the most methodical and encouraging mentor you can ever have. Her office door is always open when you have a question, and a detailed answer is guaranteed. My Ph.D. advisor, Peter Rona, probably held the highest standards of a scholar. As a man approaching his 80s, he often worked 7 days a week and was PI of multiple science projects. He once said half jokingly, ‘Time managing is easy. You work 24/7’. I learnt from him the studiousness and perseverance requisite for an oceanographer. In retrospect, my adventure into the world of oceanographic research has been challenging and yet rewarding. I am very thankful to the many people who have helped me on my journey. I feel extremely lucky to have met so many awesome people who keep inspiring and motivating me to move forward. I treasure all these memories and will carry them to wherever my adventure ends.