Getting A Job In Antarctica: My Long Journey 2009-2012

Getting A Job In Antarctica: My Long Journey 2009-2012

My name tag and program patch on my "Big Red" parka. Note I also added my Explorer's Club members pin.
My name tag and program patch on my “Big Red” parka. Note I also added my Explorer’s Club members pin.

I want to live and work in Antarctica. It’s been a dream of mine for years, and starting about 4 years ago, I finally decided to make my dream a reality. As you may expect, getting a job – a real job, and not just a tourist ticket down to the South Pole is tricky. And to date, I still don’t have a spot on the polar team yet – but I’m working on it, day by day, getting closer making my dream come true.

I wanted to write this blog post to outline my long and complicated ordeal in researching and implementing my pathway to the ice. Over the past four years of this obsession, I’ve fielded just about every question I can imagine about how to connect and get a job there, and what living and working in Antarctica is like. I’m going to break this post up into two main sections: My job search timeline, and then general questions and resources that get asked a lot.

I’ve been applying for jobs in Antarctica for 4 years. This past year was my strongest push yet, and unfortunately I did not get the job, despite all resources and effort applied. I plan on continuing the quest to make my dream job happen.

My job search timeline.

The whole quest began about 4 years ago in 2009, when I was working at Morpheus Media. Although I loved working at Morpheus, I was getting sick of being cooped up behind a desk all day. I didn’t want to see my life pass by as I was behind a desk – I wanted to get out there, do something cool, interesting and fulfilling. Not just go on a small vacation, or to the beach for a day – but embark on a grand epic adventure. I wanted to get as far out as I could, do the biggest most awesome thing I could think of. My thought process was, and is still, that if I do something big and outlandish now, then I might have an easier time “settling down” at some point in my life – although I still fully intend on making ultra mega adventuring a constant part of my life. I wanted to have a period to get the ultra single adventuring out of my system.

Jeffrey-Donenfeld-Morpheus-MediaSo, the idea of going to Antarctica came to mind, and I decided that I would pursue it. My first couple months were a lot of research and realization. I started my quest in January of 2008 by Googling “Antarctica”, and reading everything I could find on it. So I started with Wikipedia of course, and then worked my way around the web reading every article, blog, and website about the continent as a whole. Then I moved on to researching the people there – were there people there? What did they do? Why were they there?

I realized soon that yes, there were people in Antarctica, of two varieties: Workers, and Tourists. I knew for sure that I didn’t want to go as a Tourist – the typical tourist trip to Antarctica seems to be taking a boat to the edge of the ice, maybe stepping off for a photo with a penguin, and going home. No, not for me. I wanted to LIVE on the ice, be a part of the culture. I soon found out that there are people living in Antarctica, doing science. American workers in Antarctica work for the United States Antarctic Program. Within the program, it’s broken down into Scientists and Support. Scientists are obviously the ones who do the science, and the support staff does everything else – maintains facilities, trains, ensures safety, constructs buildings, etc.

I decided that my ticket was to work as support staff – and after researching job roles on the support side, I realized that there were a bunch of jobs that i fit into fairly well, including positions on the IT, Construction, Food Service, Waste Management and Field Training Teams. I decided that I could probably train up and get one of these spots, and decided to do it.

1000px-Raytheon.svgAt the time in 2009, support duties were not handled by the USAP, but instead by a Sub-Contractor, who at the time was Raytheon Polar Services Company (RPSC). RPSC is a huge US Defense Contractor, and as such, their hiring and HR systems are extremely complex. After figuring out how and when to apply for a job, I submitted my resume to their automated job board on March 1, and waited patiently. And I waited, and waited, and waited, and nothing. NOTHING. No confirmation, no peep from HR, no call back, nothing. They had my resume, but nobody took notice at all. Yes, this was my first attempt, and it sucked. It was based off of just a few months of light research, and a relative naivety about how the program runs, and how to get noticed within the massive government contract HR machine. My failure in 2009 was disappointing, but looking back on it, not unexpected. It was around the end of July of 2009 that I realized I definitely wasn’t going to get the job that year, and that my efforts had been weak, and that I was under qualified for the jobs I was applying for. Mainly, a position as a Field Instructor.

I spent that summer working at Morpheus Media and researching more and more about Antarctica. I realized that if I was going to make this work, I was going to need to do more than just submit my resume to a giant machine and sit back – I was going to have to network and connect with people in Antarctica, HR people, support staff, and everyone else I could. I needed advice on positions, qualifications, and needed to understand better how the whole hiring process worked.

The next couple of months were spent networking my ass off. I read every blog, twitter stream, and linked in profile I could, and called everybody. Most of the people I tried to contact weren’t very receptive. I sent a lot of emails that went unanswered, and left a lot of voicemails. But eventually, I started to make a few connections, and started to get my questions answered – which were the easier jobs to secure? When was the best way to apply? Who do I talk to? Is going to Antarctica really worth it?

I learned that for any position and especially my ultimate positon of working with the Field Safety Training Program (FSTP, pronounced “F-Stop”), I was going to need a LOT more experience – mainly with winter mountaineering and emergency field medicine. I’ve been a mountaineer my whole life, and was (at the time) a formerly certified EMT, so I had a good base, but needed to update my skillset. By the end of 2009 I knew I needed to do lots more trips for my resume. I also realized that I needed some recent, solid recommendations to accompany my resume.

I also managed to connect with a few employees who were down on the ice, and got even more excited about my endeavor once I started seeing their photos. Among my first Antarctic contacts were scientist Dale Andersen, Buck C, Eli D, and Ken C. I’m not using their last names in this blog post, to avoid clouding their search results.

In February of 2010, I went with my brother to do a winter ascent of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. Mt. Washington is home of some of the highest winds and coldest temperatures in the world, and so I thought it would be a good item to include on my resume. Jason and I climbed Mt. Washington with Sara Reeder of the EMS Climbing School. We had a great time, and learned a bit more about winter mountaineering. This certainly wasn’t my first winter mountaineering ascent, and I wasn’t introduced to any techniques I didn’t already know, but it was still a fun trip, especially since I did it with my brother. Here’s a quick video from the top:

By the end of February, 2010 I had done a ton more research, and had my act significantly more together than the previous year. I had more recent mountaineering experience, I had a solid recommendation from EMS, and I knew how the HR machine worked at Raytheon Polar Services Company. The March 1 date was fast approaching, and I was ready.

For clarification on the March 1 date, here’s how it works: Throughout the year, the various teams get together their staffing requirements for the next season, and send them over to the HR administrators. All of the available job descriptions are put into a system, and then at midnight on March 1, the public is given access to the list, and applications are accepted. From what I learned, resumes are looked at on a “first come” basis, and so if there are 5 slots open, and the first 5 resumes submitted fit the criteria, those 5 people are looked at first, and if they all are offered a job and accept, then the spots are closed. First come, first served. So its very very very important to get the application in as soon as possible on March 1. Very stressful, but very important.

On March 1, here’s a sampling of the jobs I applied for. All of this information comes from my personal archives of employment documents, but was once publicly available on the internet. And of course these versions of my resume are my own, and I’m choosing to post them here for your interest. My file is certainly not complete, but there are a few remaining documents.

Anyway, that’s a small sampling of what I brought to the table in 2010. After submitting all of my materials, including resumes, cover letters and recommendation for each specific job I was going after, I started the long followup. I knew it wasn’t enough just to sit back and let my resumes grind through, so I started calling HR, and every other contact I could find to see what the status was, and what else I could do to help myself. I certainly encountered A LOT of resistance, but eventually I got a handle of what they were looking for for each role,  and why unfortunately, my application was rejected for every single job I applied for. Completely rejected.

For most of the positions, including the Field Camp and FSTP positions, I was rejected simply because I didn’t have enough experience (yet). However for the “General Assistant” position, which I thought would be my “backup”, I learned that I was ousted by incumbents.

The way the hiring process works is that applications for each position are accepted from everybody – however, preference is given to returning employees. This is a fairly logical decision, since ostensibly returning employees already know the job they’ll be doing, are less of a risk, and cost less to train. So, for the General Assistant position, I guess all of the incumbents decided to take their old jobs back, and I wasn’t even given the opportunity.

By far one of the most frustrating aspects of the whole application and subsequent rejection process was the extreme lack of feedback or communication from any of the RPSC HR folks. I kept in constant email and phone contact with all hiring managers that I applied to for jobs, however feedback from their end was very very sparse. The rejections didn’t come in the form of formal letters or calls telling me I didn’t get the job – they came by way of a cutoff in communication. No feedback, no rejection, just blackout in communications until I realized that everybody who was going to Antarctica was already there. Sure, there were a few jobs I applied for where I received formal letters, but for the most part, I just never heard back from anybody, and at some point assumed that I didn’t get the job. It was extremely frustrating that I couldn’t get anybody on the line to simply tell me “yes” or “no”, so I could get on with my life.

So the job application followups happened all summer in 2010, and by the end of a long long summer of constant calls and emails, I realized that it probably wasn’t going to happen – again, for the 2nd time. At least this time I had gotten a better hold on how the application process worked, and knew who to followup with. I had made some good contacts within the HR world at Raytheon and USAP.

Once October 2010 came around, I shifted my focus from a Summer 2010-2011 position over to a Summer 2011-2012 position. I knew that I really needed to make it happen that next year, or it wasn’t going to happen at all. I spent the entire winter strategizing my application process, and went on as many trips and courses as I could.

I also quit my “day job” at Morpheus Media early in 2011. I realized that if I was going to really make it happen, I was going to need to be available to call on HR during the week, when they were open and at their desks. Working a day job, despite the fact that I loved it and really needed the money, wasn’t going to work if I was going to fully commit to this. And so I quit. Antarctica was, and still is my lifelong dream and absolute priority, so i reorganized my whole life in order to focus on it. It was a scary decision, but one I was hoping and praying would pay off.

In order to make 2011’s job search successful, I knew I had to up my qualifications. Since a position on the Field Safety Training Team was my primary focus, I decided to update my field medical training. I signed up for a Wilderness First Responder course with NOLS-WMI. NOLS is a great orginization, and although this course was the most expensive course of its kind, I thought that having NOLS-WMI again on my resume would be worth more than just the WFR certification.

wmi_logoI signed up for my WFR Certification Course shortly after quitting at Morpheus Media. Shortly after that, the March application date came around again, and so I submitted my resume again – this time adding WFR Certification, as well as a bunch of other certifications to my roster of qualifications. I also made a couple other versions of me resume to support other jobs I was applying to – including the General Assistant position.

The summer of 2011 I spent traveling through Colorado and California, working on making contact with RPSC HR people, and waiting to hear good news about Antarctica. I also spent a few weeks at the High Mountain Institue in Leadville, Colorado completing my NOLS-WMI Wilderness First Responder certification. The course was great, and I’d highly recommend it. Here’s my writeup of WFR Training with NOLS-WMI.

Going into summer 2011 I had all of my job applications in, and was ready to get a spot in Antarctica – and then budget cuts hit the NSF, which flowed through to the USAP, onward towards Raytheon Polar Services. This resulted in a massive amount of jobs being cut, and the entire Antarctic mission being scaled back considerable. Immediately I was at a distinct disadvantage. Not only was I a newcomer to the program, but I was also competing against incumbents for fewer job spots. Not a great position for me to be in, but I trudged on with followusps and continuous improvement of my resume.

In 2011 I applied for about 14 different positions. Of course my first choice in jobs was to work as a Field Instructor for the USAP Field Safety Training Program (FSTP), however I wanted to get a job on the ice no matter what. I applied for every entry-level job posted, including the nebulous “General Assistant” positon, which I had heard was perfect for people new to the ice.

Here’s a quick rundown of jobs I applied for, as well as a few versions of my resume.

After I sent in all of my applications and waited all summer for word back, in typical government operation fashion, I got no response at all. I even made a visit directly to the RPSC offices in Centennial, Colorado in order to introduce myself to the HR staff and see if I could make some progress that way, but still got nothing. Courteous handshakes and pleasantries, but no real progress. My trip to Centennial was certainly interesting, but unfortunately I don’t think it did much for my chances of getting a job. Very very frustrating to have my networking efforts dashed

I waited and waited, and called on HR over and over, until about a month before the season started, I got the HR manager for the Science Support Office on the phone, who gave me some partially good news. She already had her team filled for the primary contracts, but would be happy to offer me an alternate contract. This meant that if the person they selected to be on the team flaked out at the last minute, I would be the standby candidate to get slotted in. Being an Alternate is a mixed blessing. In order to be an alternate, I had to go through the entire “Physical Qualification” process that everybody else goes through in order to deploy to the ice. The standard procedure includes a full dental check, medical check, blood lab panel tests, and drug screen. It takes a while to go through all of the checks, and if anything needs to be fixed, it’s out of my own pocket. The PQ process makes sure everybody is totally healthy and ready to live in Antarctica. Once I finished all of my PQ tests, I was ready to go to the ice – but I only had an alt contract. This meant that I had to stay ready and waiting for deployment on a 2 weeks notice, but didnt actually know if I was going or not. Considering that deploying to Antarctica would mean packing up my whole life here in NYC – moving out of my apt, saying goodbye to my friends, etc, it was a big frustration to sit there waiting, but not knowing what my future held.

While I waited, I read up on all of the USAP deployment procedures and information. Interestingly, most of the deployment packets were freely available on the USAP website, if you knew how to search for them. Here are a few of the interesting documents I read through:

I waited until October, holding out hope that I’d get my alt contract upgraded to a primary – but the letter never came. I did have an alt contract, but right around the time that I was expecting to receive my upgrade, the worst news came – not only was I not going to be getting my contract, but the entire program was being downsized, so there really were no jobs to be had. Bad news for me, and bad news for all other jobseekers.

Apparently the program was being downsized for two reasons. First of all, budget cuts. The NSF had cut the USAP’s support budget, which had in turn trickled down through RPSC, and resulted in a massive amount of positons on the team being eliminated. This meant that not only was the program unable to accept any new employees, but many of the returning incumbents also didn’t get their jobs back.

Second, right at the time that the final preparations were being made for deployment, access to the ship that’s used to carry supplies to the ice was cut off. Apparently the US has been using a giant Swedish icebreaker ship called the Oden for years. However in 2011 at the last minute, the US lost the use of this ship. Because of this, they were forced to use a smaller ship to ferry supplies down to the ice – smaller boat meant less supplies, which meant less people could be supported, which meant jobs being cut. Here’s the letter I received covering all of this boat drama.

So, after all of this – two previous years of applications, multiple training courses, quitting my career, it all came down to this – nothing. I not only wasn’t getting the job, but my prospects for the future were looking even more grim, because the entire program was being downsized. It was quite devastating, considering I had quit my career and devoted my all of my time and remaining money to pursuing this dream job, and got completely denied on it. I wasn’t ready to quit yet, though – so I decided to keep upping the ante on my resume. I  signed up for yet another program, this time the NOLS Winter Outdoor Educator Course.

Holidays 2011 came and went, and then in January of 2012 I departed on my NOLS Course. This was my 3rd NOLS course to date, after I completed the Alaska Backpacking Expedition in 2000, and NOLS-WMI WFR training in 2011. NOLS is a great organization, and I’m consistently impressed with their excellent programs – highest recommendation.

The NOLS Winter Outdoor Educator course was great, and just on its own, it was an absolutely great time. Here’s my writeup of the NOLS WOE Course.

After my NOLS WOE course, I spent a bit of time with my family, and then returned back to NYC. During the winter I had landed myself a job at Fueled, a mobile strategy startup in NYC. So when I got back to the city, I had a fresh new job waiting for me. However, I still had the bug to go to Antarctica. And so as soon as I returned to NYC, I once again began preparing for my next attempt to land an Antarctic job for Summer 2012-2013 season.

24sublet-office-master675Working at Fueled was great, but I soon realized that the time and life demands of working at a tech startup clashed pretty heavily with the time I felt like I needed to devote to Antarctica in order to make the job happened. I ended up leaving Fueled at the beginning of the summer, so that I could focus full time on Antarctica.

Once I left Fueled and had my whole summer free, my first order of business was to once again add cred to my resume. Given that I had completed my Wilderness First Responder training the previous summer, the next logical certification for me was full on Emergency Medical Technician training. EMT Training is not to be taken lightly, and is usually done as a 6 month long course. However, I didn’t have six months. I only had the summer, and I really wanted to have the training wrapped up asap. a286c7bda7e6847022df5989d0642bb0I was applying to the new Summer 2012 jobs in March, and needed to be enrolled in a course before then, so I could put the cred on my resume. Searching for accelerated EMT courses was a huge pain, and it seemed like there were none that fit my criteria of location, timing, and level of training. So, I did the logical thing, and hired a Task Rabbit to help me research. Work with my Task Rabbit went very very well, and she found me the excellent program run by Josh Green and Eric O’neal at Unitek Education in Freemont, California. It was two weeks long, consisting of 14 14-hour days of constant training. Total dedication and focus for two weeks. The Unitek course was great as expected, and I completed my National Registry Emergency Medical Technician training at the end of July, 2012. Combined with my WFR Certification, that gives me Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician status, certified ty NOLS-WMI and National Registry. Here’s my Unitek EMT course writeup.


And here are two recommendations I received from my course instructors:

March 2012 rolled around, and once again I was ready to apply for my positions. However this time the job application process was much more convoluted and confusing and mysterious. In 2011, Raytheon was the government contractor for Antarctic support services. They had originally had a 10 year contract to provide these services, but had been doing the job for the past 14 years. The 4 year extension was on account of the USAP taking their sweet time to pick a new contractor to whom to award the contract. The main contenders were C2M Hill and Lockheed Martin, and they were locked in a fierce bidding war.  The USAP awarded the contract to Lockheed Martin, who should have immediately taken over the job, and started in on HR duties for the upcoming season. However, C2M Hill protested the award, and so the entire transfer of responsibility from RPSC to LMC was delayed for a number of months. Instead of being able to apply for jobs starting in March, everyone had to wait until much later in the summer. And by this time, there wasn’t much time to get their act together, so the whole process was in a bit of disarray. Add to this a further reduction in staff levels, and you can see that the hiring prospects were extremely dim – dimmer than they had been in any previous years.

When jobs were finally posted online, I applied for every spot I was remotely qualified for, and then created a comprehensive spreadsheet of every job I had applied for, as well as every single person I had any talks with about Antarctica, including personal contacts, HR folks, and connections. Here’s a rundown of the jobs I applied for:

  • Lead Baker #4202
  • Sous Chef #4278
  • Culinary Supervisor / Chef #4206
  • Culinary Supervisor / Chef #4320
  • Dining Attendant – Dining Room Attendant
  • Dining Attendant – Dining Room Attendant #4209
  • Dining Attendant – Dining Room Attendant #4207
  • Lead Dining Attendant / Lead Dining Room Attendant #4221
  • Prep Cook #4275
  • Production Cook #4229
  • Production Cook #4276
  • Beverage Supervisor
  • Sous Chef #4310
  • Recreation Coordinator #4271
  • Recreation Coordinator
  • Postal Supervisor
  • Retail Coordinator
  • Retail Materials – Retail Clerk #4294
  • Air Transportation Specialist I
  • Air Transportation Apprentice
  • Wastewater Treatment Plant Technician Materials Person
  • Load Planner
  • Inventory Data Specialist
  • HR Generalist
  • Heavy Equipment Operator
  • Hazardous Cargo Specialist
  • Greenhouse Technician
  • Fuels Operator Lead
  • Fuels Operator
  • Senior Materials Person
  • Food Warehouse Fleet Operations Supervisor
  • South Pole Station Fleet Operations Supervisor
  • McMurdo Station Fixed Wing Support
  • Comms Operator
  • Material Control Specialist
  • Material Expediter
  • Equipment Operator
  • Diver
  • Communications Operator
  • Meteorologist
  • Communications Coordinator
  • NSF Administrative Coordinator
  • Carpentry Helper
  • Painter
  • Logistics Supervisor
  • Station Operations Supervisor
  • Station Communications Supervisor
  • Carpenter
  • Traverse Field Supervisor
  • Cargo Coordinator
  • Camp Supervisor
  • Boating Coordinator
  • BFC Supply Coordinator
  • Air Transportation Specialist II
  • McMurdo Area Manager, 226029BR
  • Training Instructor 226365BR
  • Research Engineer-Antarctica, Siple Dome field camp 235708BR
  • Field Instructor Lead
  • Field Instructor
  • Traverse Field Supervisor
  • Fuels Operator
  • Air Transportation Specialist
  • Work Order Scheduler
  • Work Order Schedler
  • Meteorologist – South Pole
  • Food Warehouse Materialsperson
  • Traverse Field Supervisor
  • Communications Operator
  • Recycling Technician
  • Recycling Coordinator
  • Hazardous Waste Supervisor
  • Hazardous Waste Technician
  • Telecommunications Tech
  • Carpenters Assistant

The initial job postings went up in March, 2012, and I spent the entire Summer 2012 working on making and maintaining contact with as many HR managers and job contacts as I possibly could. For virtually every single day this past summer, I’ve made it a top priority to keep in touch with everybody I can, and have documented every single call, email and message in my spreadsheet to make sure that I don’t call on people too much, but just the right amount. Unfortunately, although I basically gave my entire summer (and quit two excellent jobs) to making progress with securing a spot on the ice, not a lot happened during the summer. Making contact with anybody who was in a position to hire, or give me any info was extremely difficult – no emails were returned, and the phones rang and rang. But nothing. Finally, near the end of the Summer, I made a little bit of progress.

I had applied for a position as dining room attendant with Gan-a ‘yoo, the food service contractor. While running one day, I received a call from HR to do a job interview, and luckily, the interview went very well. I received word that I was a top candidate for the position, and got pretty excited about it.  However, at the last minute, its seems that the incumbent employee had decided to come back to their position, and since incumbents who already have on-ice experience have priority over new hires, I lost out on being offered the position. Once again nixed, and very very very frustrated.

However, I didn’t let this discourage me too much. The next day I got back on the phone and started trying to make more inroads with other divisions I was speaking with. I finally made contact with the HR manager at Best Recycling, the waste manager on the ice. Although I had originally applied for every single position they were offering on the day they had posted them back in March, for some reason the HR manager at Best Recycling had already hiring his primary team for the ice. I re-sent him my resume, and was informed that I was well qualified for the job, but because they had already hired all of the primary spots, they could only offer me an alternate. I took the alternate spot, but to this day I’m still very confused why I didn’t get a call for the primary spot when I applied within the first 5 minutes of the first hour of the first day that the job postings were put up online. Very very very frustrating.

Luckily, being an Alternate candidate meant that I got to go through the entire Physical Qualification process, which is a “universal” qualification – being “PQ’d” means that I’m clear for any job, not just the job that initially got me in the PQ system.  So using my Alt contract with Best Recycling, I went through the entire PQ process. I wanted to make sure I PQ’d quickly so that I could immediately be qualified and available to any other team that needed me, so I immediately flew back out to Centennial, Colorado. This allowed me to see ASC’s own doctors and have my paperwork sent directly to the medical center. If I had done my PQ process here in NYC, I’d have to wait a few extra days for my paperwork to be sent around – and there was a very small chance that those extra few days could make the difference. I certainly didn’t want to take any chances on not giving myself the absolute best possible chance, so I flew out to Colorado to do the PQ process.

I got PQ’d in two days worth of constant doctor visits, shuttling paperwork across town, and getting on the phone to make sure things were in order. When I finally passed my PQ, I immediately sent out an email blast to everyone I knew at ASC to let them know, and make sure I was on peoples minds.

Unfortunately, after much waiting, I was told that most of the Best Recycling team was probably going to be deploying, and so there wasn’t a lot of hope for me. However at the same time, I also finally got ahold of the HR manager for the IT division. They let me know that there may be an opening on their team for an IT spot I was well qualified for, but that they had already extended an offer to the incumbent employee and were waiting for his response. I decided to take an ALT contract with GHG the IT contractor too, hopefully giving myself a better chance. I signed that alt contract, and waited.

PAEFinally, through a few contacts, I made contact with the HR Manager for the carpentry division at PAE, one of the larger antarctic subcontractors. To my surprise, the HR manager let me know that they indeed were looking for one additional entry level person on their team, and had an immediate need. I interviewed for the position via email, and sent in my resume and recommendations and everything. After a bit of email back and forth, the manager let me know that everything was basically set for me to join the team, and all that needed to happen was for us to have an official interview phone call as per procedure. After the phone call, he could send me the official offer letter and solidify my place on the team. Tuesday evening in the beginning of September came, and we were set for a 19:00 phone call. The call time came and went, and about 20 minutes after our call time, I received an email from the manager informing me that he needed to attend to some other things, and needed to push our call back to the next day.

That was fine, and so I spent the entire night and next day stressing about the call, and reading up on interview material. Finally Wednesday night came around, and again 40 minutes after our call time, I received a brief email from the manager informing me that he unfortunately couldn’t get an outgoing line from Antarctica to call me on, so he’d have to push the call back another day. He did, however, send me a list of the standard interview questions he needed to ask me, so I could reply via email, and so our official call could be quick and easy. Here were my responses:

  • How would you describe yourself in one sentence?
    • I’d describe myself as a smart, enthusiastic and hard working leader who’s constantly looking towards moving forward and making a positive contribution to my team and project.
  • As a person with a lot of leadership experience, how well do you adapt to not being in the lead?
    • I do have a lot of leadership experience. However, one thing that I have learned as an integral part of my experience is how to follow. In the end, the important thing is to safely, effectively accomplish our objective and project, and in group scenarios, that more often times means taking direction. I certainly adapt well to not being in the lead, and feel like properly embracing my particular spot on the team is critical for overal success.
  • Would others agree?
    • Yes, absolutely.
  • Do you prefer working by yourself or in a group?
    • Ideally, I prefer to work in a situation where there’s a healthy blend of both team collaboration as well as individual responsibilities. I fully expect and look forward to our overall projects necessitating close group coordination and cooperation, as is the case with roles such as ours. I’m also very comfortable working on my own on individual tasks that contribute to our team goal. Overall, I really do prefer a blend of both, and I’ve proven to myself throughout various projects that I’m comfortable in both capacities.
  • How have you dealt with difficult co-workers or personality conflicts in the past?
    • Communication communication communication. I think that in a close knit group setting, communication is absolutely key to both accomplishing our objectives, as well as developing a healthy and productive work environment. In the past, I’ve dealt with difficult co-workers by speaking with them and confronting the issue in the most appropriate manner – whether it’s one-on-one, mediated through HR, or whatever is necessary to most smoothly resolve whatever difficult situation comes up.
  • How will you handle being away from friends/family for an extended time?
    • I’ve been looking forward to working away from home for many many years, and virtually all of my friends and family know how dedicated I am to this. I’ll certainly miss my friends and family, but I know they absolutely support me in my endeavors. I’ll looking forward to sending back lots of photos!

Finally, Thursday night rolled around. I was ready for the call, and had actually already ordered all of the gear I was planning on taking to Antarctica, just to get a jump on it. About 5 minutes before the call, I received a crushing email from the manager – he had just gotten out of a meeting, and in that meeting the team budget had been cut, and with it my position had been cut. Yes, 5 minutes before I would have locked myself into the team, my position was cut from the budget. Very very very very frustrating. One of the most crushing events ever to happen to me. I kind of didn’t know what to do with myself when I heard this – and to make matters worse, the manager communicated this to me with a single line email, no further explanation or anything. NO effective communication at all. Very frustrating.

Screen Shot 2015-10-18 at 6.37.02 PMI went to bed that Thursday night in deep deep despair. However in the morning, I woke up to a nice email – somebody on the GHG IT team had dropped off, and there was potential space for me on the team. The HR manager let me know that he would be working on rearranging the team that week, and would get back to me asap. That was right before the end of September, and so I let him know that based on that, I would be planning to stay available for the next two weeks until a decision was made. I let my lease on my awesome west village apartment expire, and moved out of my apartment on the last day of september. I put all of my belongings into storage, and packed two bags – one with “city gear” for living in NYC for another week or two, and one with all of my potential antarctica gear. I moved up to Harlem to sleep in a friend’s guest room for a bit, while I waited to hear the final verdict on my position.

During the last 2 weeks of my Antarctica push 2012, I lived at my friend Aparna’s place – she was very nice to give me a room to stay in for a bit. I was initially told that I’d hear back from GHG on availability on their team by the end of september, but that date ended up getting pushed well into october. The morning of October 8th, 2012 I received an email from GHG HR informing me that they would NOT have room for me on their summer team.

So, that’s it – I’m not going to Antarctica for the Summer 2012-2013 season. After quitting my job, spending all of my time and money trying to make this work, once again it’s not going to work out. This is by far the most frustrating thing I’ve ever embarked on, but I dont plan on letting this keep me down.

Although Summer deployment is no longer an option for me, I fully intend on pursuing a winter positon, and on and on. Antarctica is a dream for me, and I plan on making the dream into a reality.


If you’ve read this far, you may have seen my announcement to friends on Facebook. Here’s what I said on facebook, along with the clip from “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” that I quoted from.

Friends, family - As you know, for the past 4 years I've been pursuing my dream of living and working in Antarctica. I've put everything into it, and with your support, I've made good progress in gaining the necessary qualifications and credentials to be selected as a qualified job candidate, and in navigating the crazy government job HR system. This year I was selected as an Alternate for 3 separate positions deploying to Antarctica. This means that I was deemed qualified and selected for the job, but because the incumbent from the previous season was returning to their position, I was slotted in as the backup "alternate" candidate. Unfortunately, none of the primary candidates backed out of theirs spots, and therefore I was unfortunately not given a position. I'm NOT going to Antarctica for this season. To explain further, I've written this blog post. Please read through it.

At the conclusion of this chapter of my Antarctic endeavors, I want to sincerely thank you for your support and encouragement. The journey is not nearly over yet!

Thank you, and as Steve Zissou would say, I love you all.

****** Update 2012-11-02 ******

Here’s how it happened…


All posts about Antarctica…

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30 responses to “Getting A Job In Antarctica: My Long Journey 2009-2012”

  1. […] – Working in Antarctica Posted on 2012/11/02 by Jeffrey Donenfeld A few weeks ago, I published an article detailing my efforts over the last four years to land my dream job working in Antarctica. At the […]

  2. […] Getting a job in Antarctica was HARD. I tried for 4 solid years to get down here, and only got offered the job at the last minute. Here’s my complete saga of job searching.. Getting A Job In Antarctica: My Long Journey 2009-2012 […]



    This post is very inspiring! Glad I came across your blog.

  5. […] Getting a job in Antarctica was HARD. I tried for 4 solid years to get down here, and only got offered the job at the last minute. Here’s my complete saga of job searching.. Getting A Job In Antarctica: My Long Journey 2009-2012 […]

  6. […] 4+ years of anticipation and dedication, and days of constant travel, I finally set foot on the Antarctic […]

  7. Hello Jeffrey,
    I just finished scanning through your blog and I definitely admire you for never giving up. I never thought about going to Antarctica until I went to Iraq as a contractor for 5 1/2 years. Sadly though, I do not have the marketable skills that you have and if you struggled with your skills, my cause would be hopeless. But like you, I am still inspired to keep trying and build skills when I can afford to. I appreciated all the information on the blog and I hope one day ( before I get too old..I’m 59) to finally have that opportunity come my way again. Blessings to you my friend, stay safe..and warm and enjoy the adventure :)

  8. Sabrina bare

    Hi Jeffrey ,
    Very inspiring story !
    Do you know if they hire dentists?

    Thanks !

  9. Where do u find info about pay rates?

    1. In your offer letter

  10. Hi Jeffrey,

    I’ve been half-ass looking for jobs in Antarctica for a few months now and increasingly have come to understand how difficult it is. I came across your blog and have come to realize that I am a female version of you from 4 years ago. I never want to NOT have an awesome job that allows me to be active and outdoors. Before I even read your blog today I was looking into the High Mountain Institute online and considering applying. I have my WFR and am interested in becoming WEMT certified. I’m a recent graduate from the University of Vermont and pretty much have no set plans ahead of me. Feels good! Any advice on HMI, WEMT stuff, Antarctica jobs or life is welcome!

    Thanks for your inspiring blog!

    1. Shoot me an email! :)

  11. Mathew

    Best blog post that I’ve ever read, found it via Google as I’m about to apply for a job in Antarctica.

    I’ve gone through some shit, fell like giving up, hope pathetic do I compare reading this!?

    You have made me believe NEVER GIVE UP! ONE LIFE, LIVE IT!

  12. Vicente

    Hello Jeffrey:

    I’ve been looking for information on polar bases and impressed to find such information. It was fantastic to be able to access as many photos and videos.

    Greetings from Barcelona.

  13. Kaylin

    Hi Jeffrey,

    Wow! Where to even begin?? I’ve had a desk job with a production company for what will be 3.5 years when our show comes to a conclusion in June 2015. I just found out yesterday that both shows that I’m on will be ending, and in a moment of “Oh the possibilities for my life!” I called a friend who is traveling who turned me onto Antarctica. Apparently, she’s had family on the ice for quite a few years now and was telling me that there are opportunities for “normal” people as well.

    I must say, however, that after reading your blog, I realize that there’s a lot more to this whole journey than simply turning in an application. As you mentioned, training is paramount and time and money would be of the essence to accomplish this goal. I suppose there are less intense opportunities I could take which would still challenge me and teach me new things about myself and the outdoors, but there’s something so badass about trying to get to the South Pole!

    Anywho, thanks for sharing all your stories. Very inspiring, DON’T GIVE UP! And for what it’s worth, I wasn’t able to pull up the resumes you posted. It said “server not found” when I clicked on your links.

    Take Care,


  14. Matthew


    I’m a physical therapist and I’ve had a growing curiosity and desire to use my skills to experience the world in amazing ways. Recently, to my astonishment, “physical therapy” is a sought after skill to work in Antarctica. MD’s, DC’s, PA’s, NP’s are always in demand for remote work or emergency work locations. As i’ve done my research I to have discovered that there is very little detailed information; just a lot of general details.

    Are you able to give me any information or the contact information of the physical therapist(s) currently working with you? I’d like to know what “other” certifications I should look into to increase my usefulness to the program.


  15. —-Check the Medical Committee for contractor information and past performances.
    Eyes wide open!—Antarctica is NOT under any regulatory jurisdictions(OSHA, DEA, Licensing,FBI) though they may scare you telling you so. All is strictly COPORATE TOWN = like all the futuristic SciFi movies of good or evil Corporations running the venue with their own PRIVATE security policies(even when it comes to death+murder [ie-the suspected Methanol poisoned ANZ body held in cold storage there for years]) Their jurisdiction and NSFs ENDS at the border of the base…it’s Free Desert or Badlands ten feet off base, even for the deputized US Marshall on base. Any and all quality guarantee or performance is based on CONTRACT promises by the Logistics Company manning the Base, with NO US LEGAL backing…..enforced only through Company reward or punishment through end of Season Bonus enhancement or reduction, or job status elevation/diminishment or being transferred or fired IF they deem worthiness of the plane room and fuel cost over other cargo/logistics scheduling(remember that Body on ice?)
    —-Physical therapists are 1/3 of the Medical crew, BUT may end up >90% Services to employees. Antarctica has NO REGs for licensing-practice, so PTs may operate as sole independents w/o supervision IF they swing a cushy arrangement with Company Management, much to the dismay of the MD/DO director of the Base Hospital/Clinic. It happens, because ALL Corporations bidding for the $Billion logistics contracts need low cost/under-bids and do this by avoiding bad safety/injury records reporting through funneling injured employees direct to the PT Dept avoiding promised “OSHA-style” MD evaluation +record keeping+reporting, or risk Docs/NPs/PAs would take someone off work schedule, delaying already over-deadline projects. Remember, Company Manager performance bonuses are effected by accident/injury reporting as well as project deadlines.(As well as the Company itself for Stateside Insurer backing, whose rates effect Gov’t contract bid amounts.). The freedom to free wing PT capabilities would be abundant, and if relations w/rest of Medical Staff decent, you can have experience/experiment w/ more than allowed in USA w/ no repercussions, since NO LAW, as the liability falls to the Company+Insurer Stateside for any litigation(you yourself will just get EOS Bonus docked or fired). But, beware, though immune yourself, you may be dragged in as witness, or unwittingly deceived that you are liable for any mishaps/mal-occurrences when the Companies resist or diminish severity of all Work. Comp Claims in States, even to the point of false reporting/filing to State that employee NEVER worked for “Their” Company, but was filed under another company working another location to divert from their main Employer Safety/Injury reporting(effecting Gov’t Bidding in future), as Raytheon Technical Services LLC, a distinct corp entity from Raytheon(Parent Corp) popularly did to minimize their claims history(BTW-Fraud filing Work.Comp Company ID/Location/Injury Dates is a Class V Felony in Colorado, and Class III if resulting in Economic damages, such as screwing up employees disability entitlements/payments+ratings(CO-OAC judge confirmed).

    So, for PT in USAP—-one must decide if being a Med Team member, or go rogue for more free effect as friend of management vs. Med Principles is what you’d find rewarding.
    Welcome to the Frontier……..and if you see an unusually tall penguin w/blue eyes….see what happens when you call out-“Lars, or Bjorn”.
    Where do you think Emperor Penguins came from, on a Continent of 18 inch penguins circa early1900s?

  16. Issa Bayou

    Hi Jeff,

    I first so your videos on YouTube and got fascinating about all the base structures and stuff, i haven’t found better and concrete information other than this fantastic blog of your’s…even though I’m from Libya and have very very very few chances of ever having this experience, i will apply for any job that will come into my area of expertise.

    i will get in contact with you for help.

    Thanks a lot for sharing your experience it was very nice and worth reading.


  17. tigerlilly

    Really interesting blog, thanks for sharing your experiences. I’m an electrical/sensors engineer, but looking at the positions they typically need to fill, it kinda makes me wish I was a network engineer or an electrician or something. They seem to need a lot of those! Oh well. Is there anything in particular that you think made your application stand out more than others? There certainly seems to be a lot of competition for every opening.

  18. doug newton

    I’m an ER physician with considerable experience and have been interested in remote area medicine. It sounds like many physicians are also interested is such employment, so I question if it’s worth the effort to apply for a position. I have military experience as a commander of a medical detachment in the US Army as well as other positions of leadership. What is it like at McMurdo? Are the people friendly and happy there?,

  19. Kerry Odle

    I just came across your blog. I was on active duty in the Navy Seabees and got lucky and wintered over in 80/81. It is something I will never forget.

  20. Great blog

  21. Jim Michaud

    Hi Jeffrey
    I am in the interview process for the recently opened maitanance foreman job. I will soon be flown to Colorado for a final face to face interview then the phyc eval. I look forward to joining the team for the winterover and have been absorbing every scrap of info and all the inages (especially photos of mechanical ifrastructure) in order to become more fimiliar with the station. I have viewed the video tours and will do so again. My goal is that when I get on ice I wont have use a tour guide to get around.

  22. You’re amazing. I plan to hopefully make my way to work down there one day! tell me how did you like it?

  23. I have been trying to get a job down there for awhile now. I have a lot of quaifcation’s as a certified welder a crane operator journeyman ironworker and journeyman boilermaker and a offshore driller and heavy equipment operator i have not had any luck yet. I am hopeful that someone could put me to work. I loved your story about your experience I am a adventurous type man always looking for something to test me.
    Yours truly Mark Shumate

  24. Thanks so much for typing all that out. My own journey has taken years like yours did. I hope it will come to fruition soon. Would you please email me?