P o l l y  P e n h a l e
National Science Foundation Representative
Palmer Station

I am the National Science Foundation Representative, Palmer Station, during the 1996-1997 summer season in Antarctica. In this position, I'm responsible for the station and the implementation of the US Antarctic Program in the Antarctic Peninsula. I began my career in science as a university researcher; after ten years, I moved to science administration at the National Science Foundation.

Most of the year, I work in Washington, DC in the Office of Polar Programs at the NSF. I am the Program Manager for Polar Biology and Medicine. My job is to read and review scientific proposals from scientists who want to work in the biological sciences in Antarctica. Then I decide which scientists will receive awards to work in Antarctica. It's a big responsibility and I rely on advice from other scientists in making my decisions. There are so many excellent projects and never enough funds. I see my job as a facilitator, helping scientists to be successful, either at the proposal writing stage or in the implementation of a field program.

During the austral summer, I travel to one of the US stations. Here the management of science is first hand. At Palmer Station, I provide oversight and guidance, both in the operational and scientific aspects of the station. The US Antarctic Program is too complicated to manage long-distance from Washington, DC; this is why I and my fellow science and operations program managers travel to Antarctica every year.

Some personal background: I became interested in the outdoors world during my childhood. My parents took my sister, Sara (now a Science Librarian at Earlham College) and I on walks through the woods in Missouri. My mother taught us the names of the plants and birds; many happy hours were spent looking and learning. While in high school, a favorite science teacher told me about the National Science Foundation's summer school program, now called the "Young Scholars" program. I applied to study marine biology and spent six weeks at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. We worked in the laboratory and on a small research vessel in the Gulf of Mexico. Here I developed a life-long interest in marine science, but also was told, in all seriousness, by the ship's crew that I couldn't be an oceanographer, because "women were bad luck on ships." Luckily, I didn't pay attention to that!

At Earlham College, I majored in Biology and spent a summer studying mollusc behavior in the Caribbean. My Master's and Ph.D. degrees in Marine Science were earned at North Carolina State University. My professors, Dr. John Hobbie, Dr. Gordon Thayer, and Dr. B.J. Copeland, created a great sense of community among their students. We were challenged to learn and encouraged to share, both our in classwork and in the field. I spent two summers at Point Barrow, Alaska where I did my Master's research on an arctic tundra fish. My Ph.D. research on seagrasses was conducted in the Newport River estuary on the coast of North Carolina. Post-doctoral research led me to the University of Miami, where I continued seagrass ecology research in subtropical oceans, and to Michigan State University, where I was able to continue seagrass study in the Caribbean. Before I came to the National Science Foundation, I was a research faculty member at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary and worked in Chesapeake Bay.

Throughout my career, I've been lucky to be able to combine my love of ocean science with my love of travel. I could never be happy confined to a laboratory. While the laboratory work and the data analysis in the office are the keystones of completing a research project, it is the field work that inspires me. Every time I go to the field I see something new. However small or large, each new observation helps me understand what makes a marine ecosystem work. That's what keep me in science.

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