JIRPers: From Different to Dynamic, Thanks to a Glacier
Molly Peek, Smith College
As JIRP students, we come to Juneau with a few heavy bags and maybe a bit of nervousness. We were thrown into a group of 32 students from all over the world, all hoping that the gaps between us weren’t large enough to fall through. While fresh off the plane, my nervousness could be understood; as I sit at Camp 10 today, surrounded by people from Juneau to North Carolina to Switzerland, common ground seems less important than ever before. We are all sharing a glacier, after all, and isn’t that enough? JIRP draws students from all walks of life and from all over the world, and that expansive group, concentrated into tiny camps on islands of rock in fields of snow, matters in the science we do, enriching the questions we ask.
Surrounded by such individuals, I have found myself in the middle of a group with such varied backgrounds and interests that I wonder how it is we all found our way here. Many would consider this place to be the middle of nowhere, but somehow we have all decided that this piece of nowhere is scientifically significant enough to explore and to investigate.
So here we are, two weeks in, excited about glacier travel and sunshine. As we transition to the part of the season that focuses on science, however, it becomes clear that JIRP isn’t just about skiing with your friends and talking about your favorite types of cheese. After Juneau Week, Safety Week at Camp 17, and a long traverse to Camp 10, it is time to focus on what we all came here to do, and leave cheese conversations to long traverses as field work takes precedence.
Outside of lectures and research proposals, however, I find myself learning about much more than glaciers. On the long (and incredibly, stupefying beautiful) slog from Camp 17 to Camp 10, we discussed geophysics and research in Antarctica in between favorite books and widespread dislike of Twizzlers (personally, I stand by them). I have talked about the struggles of chemistry and academia at colleges around the country, trail etiquette on East and West Coasts, and how the natural world is amazingly interconnected with every aspect of our lives, linking us to each other in more ways than seem possible. Admittedly, most of these conversations were sandwiched between more poop stories than I have ever heard in my life. However, conversations always come back to the glacier, and how it connects us as humans from different cultures and interests.
The glacier links us as students to staff and faculty, and every way in between as we learn together about the new surprises of the changing landscape. The trail conversations we strike up connect us JIRPers as humans outside of the Juneau Icefield (which, although it is hard to believe right now, does still exist) as we discuss our homes and schools, how we ended up here and where we came from, and where we want to go. These stories also connect us as scientists, as we come out of our own small worlds to see how our own relationships to glaciers are completely different from those of others. These realizations are becoming increasingly important as our world changes rapidly, with the environment driving upheaval in all disciplines. Changes in climate on the east coast cannot be divorced from events happening to glaciers here in Alaska. If we are to investigate changes in the environment with an aim to make society better, we must work with people from a variety of locations and experiences and integrate the struggles and opportunities from all parts of the world.
In my view, the key here is people. People ask the questions, do the research, and take the hit from changes in climate and miscommunication. But as we learned in elementary school, every person is different. We are all prone to different thoughts and actions based on our unique experiences. It is important that JIRP brings people together from different backgrounds and experiences, but there is still more to be done, both at JIRP and elsewhere. Differences are important and useful, and the questions that come from those differences meeting in a common space, scientific and otherwise, must be honored and cultivated for lasting change. Learning about your research partner’s background is important to the work we do, because it brings context to the study. Why do we ask the questions we ask? Why are they different from our neighbor’s? The long trail conversations count, even those involving poop stories.