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Current Time and Temperature at Palmer Station
Current time and temperature at Palmer Station

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Headline: The Team

Helen Quinby

Helen Quinby, Research Associate
Virginia Institute of Marine Science

When Helen isn’t working, she can be found sailing on Chesapeake Bay or playing the cello. She also has been known to go on 90-mile canoe trips. Helen answered these questions in August, 2001.

Why are you a scientist?
I love to solve puzzles. I like solving problems. When I was in school, I got to develop my own science project and build some equipment. I found out that I really liked that. I’ve had great experiences learning a lot of different things. Some were "big picture" projects and others had a narrow, specialized focus.

What is science?
Science is a process of looking at a subject to find and identify patterns. These patterns have a sense of order, and therefore help us comprehend things. In a way, these patterns in science are like patterns in music. Bach used math and patterns to develop his music.

These patterns help give us a logical way of seeing and anticipating what will happen. Parents use knowledge of patterns to anticipate their children’s behavior. For example, a parent is able to know the difference between a baby’s "wet diaper cry" and a "hunger cry" and then take care of the baby. That’s using scientific methods. We use science all the time to predict things.

What skills and qualities are
necessary to be a scientist?

I tell students it is important "To know what is possible" (said by the philosopher Kierkegaard). A scientist doesn’t allow herself to say "this is impossible." Instead, a scientist needs patience to keep going and going. When things don’t go well, a scientist needs to back up, to stop and think. It is easy to get frustrated, but you need to think and then to try a new approach.

It is important to break down a project or problem into segments. You have to make a list of priorities, and then just do the first thing on the list. Don’t think about all the other things, just concentrate on that first thing. It is also really important to have good mathematics skills.

What is most enjoyable about your job?
I enjoy a project with no time limit. I can sit and mess around with ideas with no deadlines. I like to solve problems.

What frustrations do you face with your job?
Well, in science there are lots of deadlines. Also, when going to sea on a research cruise, things have to be right. You can’t forget something or miss something, because you can’t replace it once you are at sea. It causes nightmares!!

When you go out to make field observations,
what do you plan to do when you aren’t working?

When I am on a cruise, I play the harmonica instead of the cello. I like to read, especially books about adventure. I liked Sailing Alone Around the World, by Captain Joshua Slocum. (He was the first person to sail solo around the world. He did that in 1895 in a 37-foot boat.) I also enjoyed Endurance, the story of the Antarctica voyage and rescue of Shackleton and his crew in 1914-1916.

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