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The coolest job in the world

Jason Team MATE Intern Sarah Sergent preps ROV Jason for a dive to the hydrothermal vents at Axial Seamount during PROTOTAX23. (Photo by Hannah Piecuch, ©Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Sarah Sergent is a MATE intern at sea with the Jason Group during PROTOTAX23. She is a new graduate of the Marine Technology Program at Northwest Michigan College. This is Sergent's second MATE internship with remotely operated vehicle Jason and it is an extended one. She will spend three summer months at sea and three in port for Jason's maintenance period in the fall. Between her MATE internships and finishing her degree, Sergent also worked at Ocean Exploration Trust as a contract ROV co-pilot for Atalanta, a tandem vehicle that supports ROV Hercules.

Landing the internship

When I started taking classes in marine technology, we would watch Nautilus Live from the Ocean Exploration Trust and one of the first ones we watched was actually of WHOI and Jason retrieving Hercules when it [Hercules] was lost. And I thought: "Could you ever imagine? This must be the coolest job in the world, you'd work your whole life and never have a chance to do something this amazing."

Working on Jason

Last year I didn't really know what to expect from an internship, I thought they would just have me stand back and watch and maybe help at the end. I'll tell you what, we got on the ship and got right to work. I was working with another engineer, and we had to assemble major water samplers and test them. We were emailed a manual from 1989. But that is the kind of hands-on learning where I absolutely flourish. Everyone on this team is willing to show me how to do things but they also let me do things myself.

I really like the hands on the nature of the work. I loved marine electronics and took multiple courses on it through my school. But I love the mechanical side, too. I really want to be able to do a mix of it all, depending on the cruise and whatever is needed. This fall, going to Woods Hole to be part of a tear-down and rebuild period, can't even put into words how excited I am for the opportunity to learn the Jason system on that level.

An optical obsession

Last year I was watching the Jason Team do re-terminations of the optical fiber. This fiber goes inside the tether and sends back all the communications and images from seafloor. At the time, I didn't know a lot about what they were doing. But then I went back and took a class in it.

Two days a week I was in our electrical studies lab practicing.

It's delicate work, stripping back the coating. You have to cut the fiber very carefully and if you do it wrong, the connection won't work, and you have to start all over again. The fibers are just tiny pieces of glass.

Jason MATE Intern Sarah Sergent (right) and Texas A&M Professor Sarah Hu (left) secure sample bags to the Jason basket before a dive on PROTOTAX23. )Photo by Hannah Piecuch, ©Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

This year I watched someone do one for Jason and then they asked if I wanted to do the next one. And he said, "I'll go get you a new razor." And by the time he came back I was finished. Because I have practiced this. I know how to do this.

The seagoing life

I love every moment. As we're departing, I'll find a little perch somewhere up top and listen to music and just watch the land disappear. It's so serene to me. Last year it was really rough, and I was the happiest I've ever been. I felt terrible for everyone who was seasick. But I didn't get seasick and I thought, "I guess I'm just made for this."

 A big part of the reason I knew I would love this was the communication and the teamwork. It's serious-because we are trying to complete all the objectives, collect the samples, and set up experiments-but everyone has fun. The science teams are always willing to share their knowledge about these places I've never heard of or what we are seeing.

 By the end of my internship last summer, I got to fly Jason between science stops, and I got to collect my own sample at around 1600 meters (5,249 feet) on Axial Seamount. It's a basalt rock about the size of a softball. The outside is all crackled black glass.

Advice for marine technology dreamers

As a woman in this field, of my age and background, I was scared even applying. Before this I worked in behavioral health, but before that I struggled with mental health and substance use. That led me to a previous career in behavioral health, trying to help people and support them in their goals-not just for recovery, but in life goals. Eventually I got to the point where it was time for me to work on my own life goals.

I'm a big promoter of hope and second chances. You don't know what you're capable of until you try. The only thing you can control is the work you put in.

- Hannah Piecuch

This NDSF blog series will follow the PROTATAX23 expedition to Axial Seamount, covering the science and scientists at sea, and the ROV Jason operations that make it possible. PROTATAX23 is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF OCE Award #1947776).