What do you do? Dr Jess Walkup: Station Leader for the British Antarctic Survey

Jess Walkup

Meet Dr Jess Walkup Station Leader for the British Antarctic Survey, BSc Biology, 2009. She proves that the world really is your oyster when her studies and time at York has taken her all the way to Antartica. We caught up with her to find out more. 

What do you do? 

I work for the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) where I am the Station Leader of Rothera Research Station in Antarctica. I am responsible for the day to day running of the station that is home to up to 170 scientists and support staff as well as the safety and welfare of everyone on site. 

How did you get into this role? 

I started in a science role with BAS working as a Zoological Field Assistant at Bird Island Research Station spending 16 months on a remote island in the middle of the South Atlantic monitoring albatross colonies. I have since spent over 3 years on the Antarctic continent in leadership roles during polar winters and summers.

I am the first woman to have wintered at 3 of the 4 BAS stations.

What do you love most about the work you’re doing now and why? 

The favourite part of my job is the unpredictability and need for quick thinking and decision making and of course the location. I can plan my day in detail but normally something else will come up that will need to be addressed immediately. The weather is always in charge in Antarctica so logistics often change last minute with knock-on effects. 

I can see humpback and killer whales from my office window and regularly get distracted by penguins on my way to lunch.

How did York prepare or help you in following your chosen career path? 

My time at York definitely built the foundation blocks of my current career. I took a year out to work in industry where I gained skills in wildlife monitoring and tracking, along with a first class degree that experience allowed me to go straight from my Undergraduate course to a PhD. I realised towards the end of my degree that I didn’t feel like I had finished learning and was inspired by the fantastic lectures and academics that I had been tutored by at York. 

Away from the Biology department my time in the caving club gave me a grounding not only in team work but also a good understanding of safety and keeping your head in times of stress. 

York is a great city and the University itself exceeded my expectations. The teaching fuelled my interest in learning and pushed me on to further study. The pastoral system gave me the personal support I needed to succeed academically. And away from my studies, the University Caving Club gave me the self-confidence and the sense of adventure that carried me all the way to Antarctica. 

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