Drake at the edge of the Greenland Ice Sheet near Kangerlussuaq, Greenland before heading onto the ice to drill the Tunu ice core in May 2022 (Credit: Drake McCrimmon)
Drake McCrimmon is a 3rd-year Hydrology PhD student in the Graduate Program of Hydrologic Sciences at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) whose research focus involves studying the use of chemistry trapped in ice cores in hopes of better understanding aspects of past climate while employed as a Graduate Research Assistant in the Ice Core Lab and the Desert Research Institute (DRI). This comes after earning a B.S. in Chemistry from Louisiana State University in 2015, followed by an M.S. in Geology from the University of South Carolina in 2017. Upon earning his M.S., McCrimmon made the decision to take a break from both academia and research to travel and better understand certain parts of his life. After building out a pickup truck with a camper shell, he spent the next year traveling throughout the United States and parts of Canada where he feels he gained some life experience by exploring the outdoors such as the Appalachian Trail while working odd jobs to support himself.
“I eventually ended up back in Louisiana and lived in New Orleans for the next few years, where I was employed as a water chemist at the city’s drinking water purification plant,” says McCrimmon. “My time living in Louisiana, both in Baton Rouge for my undergrad and New Orleans later on, inspired a love for water science. Learning all about the unique challenges that southeast Louisiana faces when it comes to excess water and all that goes into water management in this area was incredibly interesting to me. I knew that New Orleans was not where I wanted to live forever, and that I had always wanted to live in the western US, so I began looking for opportunities to move west while engaging in interesting science and advancing my career.”
In terms of what got McCrimmon interested his field, he says he straddles the line between hydrology and ice core science, saying his interest in hydrology came from living in southeast Louisiana while working to manage water in “one of the wettest places in the country”, while his interest in ice core science comes from many places, to include studying glaciers during in his M.S. program, and even the film The Day After Tomorrow. As far as grad school, McCrimmon says he looks at it as an opportunity to engage in science he’s been passionate about his entire life while developing critical science skills, challenging his brain, and have the freedom dig deep and explore science as opposed to rote responsibility.
Drake on Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau, AK collecting samples for his MS research in 2016. (Credit: Drake McCrimmon)
In an ice cave below Mendenhall Glacier (Credit: Drake McCrimmon)
The night shift crew at the Tunu2022 drill site standing next to the bottom-most section of the Tunu ice core. (Credit: Drake McCrimmon)
Drake scanning a 1-m section of the Tunu ice core on the Greenland Ice Sheet for volcanic signals (Credit: Drake McCrimmon)
“I enjoyed my industry job in New Orleans, but I found that my brain was not stimulated as much as I needed while completing the same chemical analyses day after day,” he says. “While I’m not sure ultimately where I will end up after my PhD, I knew that I wanted to further develop my research skills and challenge myself while I have the flexibility and time in life to do so.”
McCrimmon says he was drawn to UNR due to his hydrology and ice core interests, along with easy access to the outdoors, to include the Sierra Nevada’s, calling UNR a “no-brainer” for him. He says along with the great science opportunities and to be outdoors, he’s also built strong friendships along the way, as well.
“I want to emphasize that you can have a non-traditional route and still be successful in graduate school,” says McCrimmon. “There is no need to go to grad school directly out of undergrad if the timing isn’t right, if you don’t feel ready, or if you seek other opportunities first. Life is long and there are many possible routes to take, even in science.”
McCrimmon says the biggest challenge facing grad students in the field of ice core science is the very small size, noting the high entry barrier due to limited opportunities due to there only being a few hundred scientists and grad students worldwide who are engaged in ice core science. He also notes the “same issues that affect all geoscience graduate fields”, to include low pay, lack of diversity, mental health, and feelings of isolation.
As far as his post-PhD aspirations are concerned, McCrimmon says he’s fully open to all possibilities and hasn’t decided on the result. He says while he loves ice core work, he admits research opportunities don’t really exist outside of academia, which he also admits is a system he sometimes struggles with. He expresses his enormous gratitude to both the Ice Core Lab and DRI, noting the training and connections he’s obtained are invaluable.
McCrimmon says he’s very interested in water management for the future, but notes that academia can feel “too removed from ‘real life’ solutions”. He says regardless of where he lands for a career, he aspires for a job where he can do research and be solution-oriented, but also has an interest in the environmental justice side of water management, and science communication, as well.
“I would like to be in a position that stimulates my brain, incorporates scientific communication, provides a comfortable living wage, and is in a location with ample access to the outdoors,” McCrimmon concludes. “I want to be answering important scientific questions about climate and water, and I want to be actively involved in actionable solutions to climate and water issues.”
As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!
About This Series: This interview series is focused on the graduate student experience across all STEM fields that allows them to get their research, or corresponding graduate coursework, out in front of a large global audience and share their experiences in graduate school. Our goal is to inspire the next generation of STEM students to pursue graduate studies for a myriad of disciplines, and we hope you enjoy reading these amazing stories! If you'd like to be featured in this series, feel free to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, Subject Line: Grad Student Highlights Interest!