Antarctica Program Research Assistant

PROGRAM: Ecoinformatics and Climate Solutions/Antarctica Program

REPORTS TO: Annie Schmidt, Antarctica Program Director

STATUS: Full-Time, 6 month position

LOCATION: Petaluma CA and Antarctica

START DATE: October 1, 2023



Point Blue Conservation Science is a growing and internationally renowned non-profit with over 160 staff and scientists based in Petaluma, California. Founded in 1965 as Point Reyes Bird Observatory, our mission and programs have evolved over time to include a broad range of conservation activities, from applied ecological research to restoration to environmental education to innovative work in the field of regenerative agriculture. We have a proven track record of scientific excellence.

We recognize that increasing racial, gender, cultural, and other diversity, equity, and inclusion factors at Point Blue and in our partnerships is essential for the success of our mission, vision, and strategy. We are actively engaging in a process to create lasting organizational change. We seek applicants from all backgrounds to join our teams. We strongly encourage applications from people with backgrounds that are under-represented in the conservation community.


This position will be based at Point Blue in the Antarctica Program and will be part of a multi-institution team that has been studying penguins and the Antarctic ecosystem for many decades. This productive collaboration between Point Blue, H.T Harvey, Oregon State University, and Arizona State University has led to the publication of more than 100 scientific journal articles; several of these articles were instrumental in justifying the need for the Ross Sea Marine Protected area, established in 2017 as one of the largest marine protected areas in the world. We continue to investigate questions such as: why are some colonies bigger than others, why do they occur where they do, what sort of environmental changes impact populations the most, and what is “normal” variability, with the goal of developing better understanding and sustainable management of the Antarctic ecosystem.

Emphasis during the Research Assistant’s term will be on the long-term effects of early life conditions on individuals as they mature and use of devices deployed on penguins to monitor environmental change and developing machine learning models to count penguins from UAV imagery. Field work will involve a deployment of ~3.5 months (November-February) in Antarctica (pending approval of NSF and medical clearance). While in Antarctica, the Research Assistant will be stationed at a small field camp (3-4 people) at one of the penguin colonies on Ross Island. The field crew works out of a small hut, sleeping in tents, accessible in good weather conditions only by helicopter from McMurdo station, which in turn is only accessible by military aircraft from New Zealand. Living conditions in the field are rustic, communal space is cramped, there is no running water (no showers). Temperatures range from -20 to +10 C, with intermittent severe wind and snowstorms. The Research Assistant will participate in several unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) surveys and may be required to obtain FAA certification as a remote pilot prior to deployment to Antarctica. The remainder of the position (~ mid-Feb 2024- March) will be based out of Point Blue headquarters in Petaluma, California. Shared housing is provided.


  • This position will participate in most aspects of the project including field work, field-logistics, data management, literature review, data analysis, and report writing.
  • Responsibilities while in the field (~ 3.5 months)
    • Collect data on many aspects of the species’ breeding and wintering ecology


  • Searching for banded (known-age) penguins and recording their nesting status
  • Deploying and maintaining automated scale and PIT-tag reader
  • Deploying biologging devices on individual penguins to track movement and behavior
  • Measuring chicks and recording observations of chick diet
  • Surveying for whales and pinnipeds
  • Conducting UAV surveys to photograph and census nesting adults and chicks
  • Data entry and proofing
  • Non-field responsibilities
    • Data management (50%)
      • Data quality assurance
      • Annual summaries and reports
      • Maintain existing long-term databases
      • Develop and maintain data collection and entry protocols
    • Additional projects and activities as developed with supervisor (40%)

Examples include:

  • Tagging images for training machine learning models
  • Literature review
  • Create outreach materials
  • Contribute to ongoing analysis, publications, and grant proposal preparation in partnership with the leadership team
  • Project administration (10%)
    • Safety and permitting
    • Sample curation
    • Ordering supplies
    • Maintaining equipment inventory


  • A college degree in Environmental/Ecological/Biological science or related by the time of employment
  • An interest in the field of conservation
  • At least one season of remote field experience, seabird experience preferred
  • Effective written and verbal communication skills
  • An eagerness to learn
  • Attention to detail and patience
  • Teamwork skills- ability to communicate well, actively listen, and be responsible.
  • Interest in learning to conduct UAV surveys and ability to obtain FAA Remote Pilot certification (written exam) if required
  • Enjoy living and working in challenging outdoor environments.
    • ability to carry a 40+ lb backpack daily on steep terrain with uneven footing
    • tolerance of cold, wind, and dirty working conditions
    • ability to go for several months without running water or internet
    • ability to sleep on the ground in a tent with 24 hour daylight
    • ability to live in cramped, shared living conditions with teammates
  • Skills or interest in:
    • developing code for data analysis and visualization
    • annotating images for training machine learning models
  • Have the ability to work in the United States
  • Successful applicants will need to complete a medical examination as required by the US Antarctic Program prior to deployment to Antarctica and be fully vaccinated for influenza and COVID-19. More information about the physical qualification policy is available here and here.


This is a 6-month, full-time, term position starting on October 1, 2023.


Starting salary is $21/hour commensurate with experience.

All expenses related to training and travel to Antarctica will be covered. Extreme cold weather clothing provided by the US Antarctic Program.


To apply for the Research Assistant position:

Complete the online application questionnaire and submit a CV or resume.

Point Blue is an equal employment opportunity employer and does not discriminate against applicants or employees because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age, citizenship status, disability status of an otherwise qualified individual, membership or application for membership in an uniformed service, or membership in any other class protected by applicable law and will make reasonable accommodation for applicants with disabilities to complete the application and/or participate in the interview process.