Workers at Pole, including GA's, prepare dynamite charges to be used for collapsing Old Pole, December 2010
[The employment links and details below were checked, updated, and verified on 9 December 2015--Bill]
Above...one of the more interesting job assignments for GA's (general assistants)...known in the older days as GFA's or general field assistants. This job classification involved getting paid very little, shoveling a lot of snow...and otherwise ending up with a wide variety of interesting and unusual job assignments, such as that depicted above. Many senior management people in the program...including folks like Jerry Marty, got their start this way. Alas...the current contract structure no longer includes this job classification.
Like many other folks, I prefer to go to exotic and unusual places while getting paid to do so. My first trip and subsequent job in the Antarctica...back in the 1970s...resulted primarily from military experience. As things have generally transitioned from the U. S. Navy program of the IGY (and previous) years to one operated by civilian contractors, the hiring situation has become much larger, more complicated, confusing, and of course online.
[If you haven't seen it yet, please check out my historical page which describes the history of the transition from military to civilian support of the U. S. Antarctic program...not to mention the torturous process which led up to the award of the current contract at the end of 2011.
At right...another Old Pole excavation a few years ago--in 1976-77 we're digging out the old cosray lab so that baseline data can be collected. While contractors and hiring procedures have changed over the years, there is still a lot of snow to be shoveled in Antarctica. Job descriptions include phrases such as "...and other duties as assigned." The task seen here involved GFA's, grantees, science techs, and others including myself.]
The previous two support contractors, Raytheon Polar Services Company (RPSC, 2000-2012) and Antarctic Support Associates (ASA, 1990-2000) were pretty much monolithic. While they did utilize some subcontractor support, they hired almost everyone who worked to support the program. They typically would provide advance notice of forthcoming job openings to incumbent employees on the ice (during the previous austral summer/winter seasons), giving them an opportunity to apply and get hired before the job announcements were made public on 1 March. The public announcement and job listing was made on the company web site...and in more recent years it involved a strictly online process--initial application...review by the company...perhaps a phone call or email to verify current interest...a more detailed background check by a third-party HR/screening company such as HireRight...hopefully leading up to a job offer. Additionally, in some years there were job fairs in Denver and elsewhere; these originated as resume collecting "meet-and-greet" sessions, more recently they were more informational in nature (I'm not aware of any such events scheduled these days).
All of this changed with the award of the current Lockheed Martin (L-M) contract. The current Denver office is actually an umbrella organization which calls itself the Antarctic Support Contract (ASC); it consists of a much more extensive network of subcontractors than in the past. While many of the hiring subcontractors maintain a presence in the Denver office, each actually does its own hiring using its own resources, HR departments, and web sites. At the beginning of 2012, as the new contract was being implemented, the initial effort by L-M as well as the subcontractors was to restaff the permanent/full time employees, get signed contracts with the 2012 winterovers, and hire to fill the occasional last-minute replacement vacancy. This process, as well as the initial effort to hire people for the 2012-13 summer and summer/winter, of course went through many changes in procedures, web site links, methods, and contact information.
What is happening now? Nothing is certain except continued evolution and change. All of the procedures were new for last season, and they are still evolving...hopefully adapting and improving for all concerned, based on experiences from last year. There still is not much historical information out there, and folks involved with the process are understandably reticent about discussing things on open forums, lest their current and/or future status be placed in jeopardy.
The summer season main-body jobs for McMurdo typically run from early October to about the end of February; for Pole the summer jobs generally run from late October to mid-February. The winter jobs start as the summer folks are leaving. Some of the positions are (or can be) summer+winter. Despite the US budget sequester, there still is a WINFLY (several early opening flights to McMurdo around the end of August)...so some of the McMurdo jobs will start then. As for Palmer Station, there is usually some job turnover every 2-3 months throughout the year, but most of the summer positions run from September/October through March/April. One bit of information from a reliable source...the program had set a goal for this season to hire the winterovers by July/August, but as of October there are still some openings--some people drop out, fail to pass the physical or psychological examinations, or opt for summer-only positions.
That said...what do you do if you're looking for an Antarctic job? First of all, keep in mind that there are a few other alternatives not otherwise discussed here. If you're attending or near a university or other institution with Antarctic research interests...the principal investigators who go to the ice sometimes need help in the field...shoveling snow, running massive telescopes, diving into icy McMurdo Sound or Arthur Harbor (Palmer), or drilling holes in the ice in search of neutrinos. Most of the people who go to the ice as part of a science project are graduate students involved in the program, but there are exceptions. The examples which come to mind include the IceCube project, which hired lots of people to do the drilling and instrument installation when the project was being constructed. Keep your ears open, watch the news, follow the science links and blogs which I mention on this site...and who knows? Other resources (which I really don't know as much about) are those which contract directly with NSF, such as SPAWAR (Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command in Charleston, SC). This Navy organization subcontracts directly with NSF to provide weather forecasting, air traffic control, base operations, systems maintenance, systems engineering, and information security services--at McMurdo during the austral summer season. This usap.gov page lists contact information for SPAWAR and several other organizations which provide direct support and occasionally hire people to go to Antarctica. There is no web link to SPAWAR jobs...as they are a government agency, any direct hire positions must be found on the somewhat inscrutable USA Jobs website. But they like L-M do use subcontractors including Scientific Research Corporation (SRC)...some of their summer McMurdo jobs can be found here on their SRC job search page--enter Antarctic in the "keywords" box and hit "search."
(At right, Jerry Marty is doing a GFA job out in the field, this was 4 November 1974; he would later spend most of the 1974-75 season working at Pole along with his wife Elena. Jerry's first ice job had been in 1969-70 as a GFA assigned to Byrd Station; he returned to the program after a stint in the Army. If you don't know who Jerry Marty is...in the 2000's he was NSF's construction manager for the construction of the elevated station at Pole. And a good friend.)
Before I continue, I must point out something which I get asked about frequently. In the past, the support contractors have often hired people who are not US citizens (or who are not otherwise legally authorized to work in the United States). All this has changed with the current contract--only US citizens are eligible to work for one of the USAP support contractors/subcontractors. There may be some negotiable exceptions for permanent American residents with certain types of green cards authorizing work in the US; but most of the job listings specify "American citizenship." This does not preclude non-US researchers from coming down as part of a science project team, but one must already be a member of such a team, or apply to them directly.
I won't go into detail about basic general job search guidelines, there are millions of personal, hard-copy, and online sources for such information. But keep in mind that while you may be looking for a short-term contract rather than a "career," the people who will be reviewing your applications are looking at things from a long-term corporate perspective. For example, I lost out on one position at Pole partly because I didn't have the "right" answers to interview questions about commitment to employment in future seasons. Another thing to keep in mind--employers and reviewers WILL take a look at your public information on social media, blogs, and web sites. I had this issue come up while being considered for another Pole job. Fortunately that employer stood up for me as there was nothing negative involved--and the interesting details were shared with me while I was in their office after being hired. A couple of other quick comments...remember that it can't hurt to tailor resumes and cover letters to the specific job being applied for; also, make an effort to obtain/maintain good contact information. Be sure the prospective employer has the best and current methods to contact you, and make a good effort to obtain specific names and email or telephone contact information for the people doing the hiring.
Enough preliminaries...the first and best resource you should investigate is the Antarctic Memories message board. Although there isn't much traffic there of late, much relevant information is there. Particularly if you haven't worked in the program, you should spend some time researching the various posts (job/hiring related and otherwise). This resource has been around since the early 2000s. The pre-2012 posts about specific positions, application procedures, travel and administrative details during the RPSC contract are a bit obsolete, but the general information about living and working in Antarctica never goes out of date. I'm one of the admins, along with several other folks with a fair amount of experience. If you don't see what you're looking for, feel free to post your own question there or contact me directly.
Next, check out my current and recent past links to Polie sites/blogs. While these are primarily applicable to Pole, one which is highly pertinent for all USAP jobs is the blog by 2012-13 summer cook Jeffrey Donenfeld. While his main blog is an extensive exposition of the various Pole life aspects and events during that season, his South Pole FAQ contains a lot of specific detail about living in the place, his extensive efforts to get hired over a four-year period...and how he ended up with the job with five days notice to deploy.
Finally, I must again mention the usap.gov site. In addition to the information link described above, the page on "jobs and opportunities" provides additional detail and a few good links. And don't overlook the other pages on this site...such as the Travel and Deployment" page, which includes the USAP participant guide, travel information, and the "deployment packets" which give you some idea of what to expect from the PQ (physical qualification) process and travel to the ice.
Last but not least...here's how to apply. Recently Lockheed-Martin created and updated a website linking to ALL of the various jobs with L-M as well as the various subcontractors...for that you can go here. This page includes a collection of photos and links to "learn more about ASC"--a page which gives a bit more information about the program; and a "learn more about jobs" page which includes a brief video about the ASC, other information links, and a "visit our partners to apply now" link to a listing of L-M and subcontractors, their functional areas, typical jobs, and links to the job listings. This now appears to be working. But...I strongly suggest that after general exploration you go to the specific links (below), where I've included the exact information on how to navigate the various websites and search for positions. I check and verify these frequently, but of course any of them are subject to change at a moment's notice.
Oh...as I've also worked in Greenland (albeit not supporting science), I should mention that science support jobs exist there as well. Polar Field Services is the NSF support contractor for the Arctic program--the operation is much smaller than USAP, but they DO hire folks for Summit and other locations in Greenland and Alaska. Here is their jobs page.
Good luck...and let me know how it goes!
Photo credits: the 2010-11 photo is from Marie McLane; the 1976-77 photo is from Les Rohde; the 1974-75 photo of Jerry Marty is an official US Navy photo by PH1 R. Hilton.