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I would absolutely love to get a job in Antarctica, and I know I’m not the only one.
As a kid I spent three years on a tiny island called Kwajalein in the Pacific Ocean. Ever since then I’ve been fascinated by remote and hard to reach places and Antarctica is definitely one of them.
For the past few years I’ve been dreaming of actually going here on a visit but now that goal has changed a bit. To be honest, I wrote this article about how to get a job in Antarctica completely for my own benefit because it’s a dream that I really do want to make happen someday soon.
But, for now I guess I should focus on the reality: where the heck do you even start when it comes to landing a job on the continent?!
I chatted with Michael from the Absolute Antarctica blog and Facebook Page to find out. He’s been working on the continent every year since 2009 and is preparing to head down for his 10th season with the Australian Antarctic Program in a few weeks.
Lucky for you guys (and for me) he shared tons of helpful info on exactly how to get a job in Antarctica, the lifestyle you can expect on this remote piece of ice, his experience on the continent, some stunning photos and much, much more!
All photos courtesy of Michael Goldstein
Where to Find Job Openings in Antarctica
This section will vary wildly based on what country you live in.
I’m American and so some will focus on how Americans can get a job in Antarctica. However, Michael is Australian and shared the websites you Aussies out there need to know. Beyond that, I’ve also done my best to help all my international readers get started on their job hunt as well.
Get a Job in Antarctica as an International Reader
If you’re not American, the best place to begin your job search in Antarctica is the Cool Antarctica website. Scroll to the bottom and you’ll find direct links to the Antarctica organizations in over 30 countries. If your country isn’t on this list, though, it’ll be tough to move forward from there.
Get a Job in Antarctica as an Australian
Australians who want to get a job in Antarctica will mostly go through the Australian Antarctic Program. There you’ll find three different types of jobs: operations, trades, and science. Operations is in charge of day to day operations on the base while the trades cover the maintenance of the station. Last, but certainly not least, is the science group.
So, how can Australians get a job in Antarctica?
Michael says “the science group of jobs is not something you can apply as most of the science done in Antarctica is completed in conjunction with universities and partner nations.”
Because of that, the other two fields are a better bet and positions are up for grabs on the Australian Antarctic Division website. “The best thing to do is to go to www.antarctica.gov.au and then follow the jobs link where you’ll find the section on Jobs in Antarctica. If you find a job that interests you, then lodge your interest and when the applications open you’ll be notified. Normally they open in December and close in January.
Get a Job in Antarctica as an American
For Americans, the information below covers all of the basics. Of course, to get a job in Antarctica the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) should be your first stop. Here you’ll find the companies that currently have running contracts on the continent and links to their job openings, like…
- Current IT and Engineering job openings on Antarctica with GHG Corporation.
- Antarctica jobs in sanitation services with Best Recycling.
- Current job openings in Antarctica in food & janitorial services on the Gana A’yoo website.
- Government jobs in Antarctica with USA Jobs.
- Open medical positions in Antarctica for doctors, nurses, dentists, therapists and more with the Center for Polar Medical Operations through the University of Texas Medical Branch.
- A wide variety of open positions like painters, foremen, firefighters, HR, surveyors and technicians on the PAE Careers Page.
- Pilot positions with Kenn Borek Air LTD, the company responsible for flights in Antarctica.
- Funding opportunities for Antarctica projects with the National Science Foundation.
If none of these positions appeal to you there is another (very slim) opportunity to get free flights and accommodation in Antarctica, but no pay. If you have a strong proposal you can visit as part of the Artists and Writers Program. If you work for a company that’s willing to pay some of your travel costs you may also be selected for a Media Trip to Antarctica.
Finally, Leidos is the main contracting company with Antarctica and you can get more details on job openings on their website as well.
The Application and Interview Process
For Michael, it all started when he spent a winter in Canada and fell in love with the cold.
His parents visited Antarctica on a cruise and, lacking the funds to do so too, Michael decided his best bet to visit the ice would be by getting a job there. First and foremost, he says, “If you’re expecting it to be easy, it’s not. It’s a long process with lots of hurdles, and believe me, it’s worth it.”
Patience is key here. Michael ended up applying for three years in a row before he landed his first contract with the Australian Antarctic Program.
“First thing you need to do is apply, after that if you make it through to the next round then you’re going to be asked to attend something called a selection centre. That’s like a group interview where you’ll be watched how you interact with others.”
Then, if you’re applying for a job in the trades, you’ll also have an interview with a supervisor in your field to prove that you know your stuff.
After that it’s time for the medical tests. These are necessary to find and fix any problems before you head to the remote outpost. The medical tests are extensive but a necessary evil. Michael says that once in Antarctica, “medical facilities are good, but having a doctor and one of your mates who is an electrician help put you back together isn’t the way I would prefer to have something done.”
Last on the to-do list are the psychological tests.
“There are two forms of psych and this is where they are looking a little closer at your suitability for a winter or a summer only. Obviously there are significant differences between a summer and a wintering psych. They look a little more specifically into isolation and living in a small group as you’ll be one of between 15-18 normally and you’re going to be stuck there for about 7 months. Rescue is possible, but extremely dangerous for all involved and would only happen in extreme emergency, so you’re going to have to be ready.”
Life on Antarctica requires a healthy mind and adaptation. “If you have a screw loose, are trying to escape life or running away from problems, then Antarctica isn’t the place for you.”
The Basics of Life in Antarctica
Australia has four stations on Antarctica: Casey, Davis, Macquarie Island and Mawson. Michael has made the rounds through the first three and will spend this upcoming summer on Mawson to complete the set.
One thing to keep in mind when you get a job in Antarctica is that most contracts are only over the summer months. Wintering on the continent is rare, but does happen. Beyond his many summer assignments, Michael was also able to snag a 15 month assignment at the Davis Station in 2015 to experience a polar winter on the ice.
Day to Day Routines
“The day normally starts by heading to the mess (kitchen) for breakfast and checking the weather, as life in Antarctica is governed by mother nature.”
Michael continues, “When mother nature turns it on, it not only can be dangerous to work, but also walk outside.” He explains that the basic rule of thumb is that a body can withstand one knot of wind per kilogram of weight. It’s not uncommon to see wind speeds at Casey Station reach 100 knots, in which case all personnel are required to stay inside because “the wind literally takes your feet from under you.”
Because of the effect that nature has on day to day life in Antarctica, it’s normal for routines to be interrupted and a common saying on the ice is “Hurry up and wait.” Michael cautions, “You need to be flexible in everything you do down there and if flexibility isn’t something you’re able to do in your life, then Antarctica could be very difficult.”
Housing in Antarctica
It’s important to understand that housing varies by country and base, so there isn’t a definitive answer for this one.
For Americans, there are plenty of YouTube channels you can watch to give a better idea of what to expect in your housing. I found the K Vex Channel to be quite in depth with videos touring rooms in McMurdo Station and showing the gym, store and more.
For Australians, Michael has all the answers. “Rooms are small but very comfortable with king size single beds, a small desk and ample closet space and drawers.” Interestingly, Michael told me that he mostly packs camera gear, hard drives, and photos of family when he heads down. While he does also bring some cold weather gear most of it is provided by the Australian Antarctic Program.
Beyond that, Michael has found that “after going down a couple times you quickly work out that you always take too much. More so, I have worked out that after spending so much time on the “ice” the need for materialistic things is low and I really don’t need much to be happy.”
Internet in Antarctica
I’ve read some horror stories on Antarctica blogs about the terrible internet on the continent, but it seems like conditions are improving… slightly.
However, Michael says “if you’re expecting high speeds you’ve got another thing coming. My first season down I had so many problems sending weekly emails home. Fast forward to today bandwidth has doubled and improved significantly, but so have all the devices on the network, so it’s still not super fast but it works.”
The good news, though? “On the upside, you’re never going to complain about speeds at home ever again.”
Eating and Drinking in Antarctica
Simply put, Michael states, “the food is incredible.” There are no restaurants but the stations have dining halls where three meals a day are served. There is also one public bar but alcohol is limited.
When I asked him to explain, Michael told me that because most people work in aviation on the base they’re restricted by the Drug and Alcohol Management Plan, a measure put in place by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, which allows them to have one bottle of spirits or one carton of beer or cider every two weeks.
Finances in Antarctica
One major perk of life in Antarctica is that all travel expenses, food, and housing are covered. For Australians, even “personal hygiene products and medical needs are catered for” but I have a hard time believing the American side is as generous in that regard.
Still, this means that even though salaries for any given position are pretty comparable to what they’d be at home, the savings when you get a job in Antarctica are astronomical. In fact, Michael says, “in reality the only outgoing expenses you have there are any phone calls you make. ” For a self described “heavy phone user,” this still only adds up to about $80 a month.
Watch Antarctica: A Year on Ice for more insight. This doc was made over the course of 10 years and digs deeper into the human side of life on the continent. Rent it on Amazon or, if your library has access, you can watch it free on Kanopy.
I asked Michael what he wished the average person knew about Antarctica and he told me that the experience has taught him so much more than he expected and truly changed his life. Much of that is due to the tight-knit community that forms every year.
Out of the 100 people on the station every summer he usually knows half going in. So, “there are 50 new friends every year. That’s 50 couches to crash on from all over the world as there is so much cross collaboration with other institutes/universities or nations.”
Because of the close quarters and common need for people to step in and fill roles outside their main position, Michael has been able to see and do much more than he originally expected. “You really do learn by osmosis” he says, and when helping others on their projects “you get a sense of how passionate they are about what they are doing and that’s infectious.”
The Best and Worst Parts About Life on the Ice
Of course, living in Antarctica comes with challenges beyond just the limited internet connection. Michael shares that the worst part is “missing milestones in family and friends’ lives. Life moves on with or without you, and you do at times become disconnected with your friends and it takes work to keep up those relationships.”
The best part, on the other hand, is the collaboration. For Michael it’s the people, even more than the cold, that keep him coming back every year. “I work with the most amazing bunch of diverse laterally minded experts. There is no problem big or small enough that with the parts and tools we have can’t be fixed.”
Plus, he says, “We are all from such varied backgrounds, tradies and scientists alike, that the conversation goes into some very interesting realms.”
Some highlights from Michaels experience include riding a boat on the glassy waters beneath the Sørsdal Glacier and witnessing the Aurora Australis (Southern Lights) during the winter. He also comments on the absolute silence that’s deafening in Antarctica and hard to imagine in the real world where we’re surrounding by the constant sounds of cities or nature.
It’s possible to go hiking on days off and those little moments can become the best memories. “I’ve sat down on the plateau with the most breathtaking views of grounded icebergs feeling so insignificant, but lucky that I’m probably one of about 4,000 people who experience this a year, living and working in icy heaven.”
The Dangers of Antarctica
Finally, we got to the question I know my parents will be wondering about if I manage to be one of the lucky few who snags a job in Antarctica.
The remote and wild nature of the continent should not be underestimated, and Michael doesn’t sugarcoat it. “Antarctica is dangerous, that’s for sure.”
He got survival and field training before his first trip to the continent to teach him how to travel in Antarctica and what to do if things go wrong. In a whiteout, getting lost and dying of exposure is possible even in the perceived safety of the stations. “Blizz lines” (ropes that connect each building) are in place for extra help in a storm and Michael keeps an eye on a certain set of rocks, which, he says, “if they suddenly become hard to see you’re probably 20 minutes away from significant wind event.”
As with anywhere else, common sense and careful preparation prevail. “There are many things done in order to limit the risks in working in Antartica, and besides the occasional blow or 100 knots it’s like working back in the real world, just with really cool people and amazing sights.”
Get a Job in Antarctica With This Guide
This guide will put you on the right path to landing your dream job on the remote continent. Just remember that patience is key and you may need to apply more than once, but don’t give up!
While life on the ice isn’t for everyone, if getting a job in Antarctica has been on your mind for awhile it may be time to take the leap. “I think if you’re in a position to apply, like the cold, are laterally minded and can go with the flow a little, then you need to apply and experience the most amazing place on earth.”
If you’re one of the lucky few who lands the job, you’re in for a major adventure. “I guarantee Antarctica will change your life like it has mine.”
PS If Antarctica sounds too cold for you, consider getting a job on a remote island paradise instead! Or, browse the Working Abroad series to learn how to get a teaching job in Abu Dhabi or Dubai, get a job working on a luxury yacht, and much more.