Corsica, France

“Are you going to blog about your trip?”

“You never blog anymore.”

“You’ve been home a month and a half!”

“The blog is dead. It needs your contribution on account of I have nothing.”

….maybe I should write a blog post about my trip to Corsica?


I spent the entire month of June on an island in the Mediterranean Sea! Believe it or not, this was a work trip; a fieldwork to trip to be more precise. Not a bad place to work, huh? For all it’s frustrations, science can be pretty cool sometimes.

Perhaps I should explain how this came to be. Last year, I interviewed for a postdoc position in Tübingen, Germany. Ultimately, this position did not pan out, but it did lead to further discussions of potential collaboration. Simply put: this is science lingo for saying “write your own project and come do it here”. As an aspiring academic researcher, this exactly the exciting/scary/adventurous/bold opportunity I was looking for. To survive in academia, you have to 1) develop your own, independent line of research and 2) fund that work through grants. If this is to be my chosen career path, then why not start now?! So, since finishing my PhD, this has been my focus: I have written and submitted my own grant applications, in hopes of continuing my research career in Tübingen.

As part of this process, I have been in continual contact with my potential postdoc host. In one such conversation, I was offered an opportunity to join the group on their upcoming fieldwork trip. Naturally, I accepted. The fact that this trip would be to Corsica, France was an obvious plus, but more relevant was what it would mean for my research experience. For both my Master’s and PhD, I completed fieldwork very early in the project. These experiences proved invaluable to my later work – in evolutionary biology and behavioral ecology, it’s important to place your work in a larger context and to remember that these are natural systems, with real implications. Fieldwork definitely drives this point home. For all those non-science nerds out there, it’s also really freaking cool to spend a month diving in the Mediterranean!

Getting to (and from) Corsica was an adventure in itself; not because Corsica is so remote, but more so due to the logistics of scientific research. Any fieldwork trip, by necessity, requires lots of gear. As you can imagine, transporting all this gear to and from the field comes at a great expense. Scientists would much rather spend their hard earned grant money on actual research, so if a cheaper transport opportunity presents itself, you take it. Case in point for getting to Corsica: drive. For me, this meant the following travel schedule:

Day 1:
Groningen -> Amsterdam (2 hour train ride)
Amsterdam -> Stuttgart, Germany (1.5 hour flight)
Stuttgart -> Tübingen, Germany (~1 bus ride)
Overnight in Tübingen

 

Day 2:
Tübingen -> Savona, Italy (~9 hour drive)
Savona -> Bastia, France (overnight ferry)

 

Day 3:
Bastia -> Calvi, France / Stareso (~3 hour drive)

Station de Recherche Océanographiques et sous-marines or Stareso, for short, is a marine biology research station, located just outside of Calvi, in northern Corsica. Originally built in the 1970’s, Stareso has been the annual fieldwork destination of the Tübingen visual ecology group for the past 10 years. There are, of course, many other research groups that also make use of the station, many of which also have a long history of coming to Stareso.

I’m not going to go into much detail of our work at Stareso, as it’s not my research to share. However, I will give a quick rundown of what we did. In short, we conducted a large-scale behavior experiment using a small fish that naturally occurs in the Mediterranean Sea. This is particularly relevant for me, as this is one of the fish species I want to study (should I get funding).

Can you spot the fish?
A triplefin blenny – in the aquarium

For this trip, we had an array of experimental tanks anchored in a seagrass bed at ~10m (~33 ft) depth.

Each day, we’d work in small teams of 2-3 divers to transport fish to the tanks and then run a behavior trial for ~1.5 hours. A second team would then return to the tanks to collect the fish and GoPro’s used to record the trials. Meanwhile, there was the continual task of collecting wild fish for use in the next day’s trials, as well as the general upkeep and maintenance of the tanks themselves. As you can see from this list, we spent a lot of time under water. I logged a lot of dives on this trip!

Again, I won’t go into any details of the experiment or the results, but I can say that it was a very successful trip! All-in-all, the experiment worked well, we had no diving- or fish-related issues, the weather was great, and to top it off, the food at Stareso was phenomenal! This was certainly a much different field experience than when I worked on Lake Victoria.


In other news, we have been pretty low-key lately. Whitney has been busy working, while I am writing funding applications. Thus far, I’ve submitted one proposal and will soon submit a second. These processes are annoyingly slow; it will be November, at the earliest, before I hear any result. In the meantime, I’ll keep myself occupied with a few remaining publications for my PhD work and also enjoying life with little responsibility. After 5 years of intense PhD research, it’s nice to relax.

Stay tuned for blog-life to return to normal, as Whitney will be posting about our upcoming trip to France (in September).

Until next time,
Shane

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We are two Americans living in the Netherlands with our fat cat, Meatball. The Shwits is a diary of our time abroad!

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