I’m more than a little shocked to be chosen for this undertaking. I’m an MA student, in my first year and I’ve been living in Gdynia for four years now.
The University of Gdańsk’s motto is the Latin “In Mari via Tua”, where did you get your passion for this ‘maritime’ course of studies?
It’s quite a complicated story. I come from Świdnik near Lublin, where people fly more than swim. All my life I’d been set on medicine and that was my initial plan. The idea of oceanography was born in secondary school where I heard about the subject. I came to Gdańsk to check what it was really like and discovered that it really was for me. I started my studies but the first year was a crisis year – I didn’t learn much new and was thinking about changing courses. Luckily, I met a few great people who showed me an interesting way to go and now I know that oceanography was a good choice.
Which people have had the greatest influence on your fate as a student?
There have been many such mentors, starting from the academic circle where I met Bartek Jeżak, who is currently a doctoral student at the Department of Marine Plankton Research, and he pointed out the adjuncts at the university who specialise in gelatinous zooplankton like jellyfish. One of these was Dr Anna Panasiuk-Chodnicka, who is carrying out research in the Antarctic at the moment. When I got into the Department of Marine Plankton Research, lots of friendly people appeared who helped me at various stages of my research.
What did you concentrate on during your BA course?
For the BA, I studied the crustaceans which live on various gelatinous organisms in the Red Sea. That was also an interesting story. I managed to go to Israel for a conference and I took samples which I studied back here at the university. That’s where the idea for the BA came from, quite an interesting work, since it’s not very often that people study these gelatinous creatures.
Apart from the gelatinous zooplankton, you’re also engaged in a range of other projects.
Above all, they are projects not strictly academic but more promotional in character – I was one of several coordinators and organisers of the ‘Four Seasons of the Baltic’ project. It was about educating Tri-City youth about the Baltic’s seasonal changes. We took a group of 120 secondary school kids and met them during each of the seasons. We gave them basic exercises in maritime research from different areas – biology, physics, chemistry or geology. We also held thematic lectures. The “Silting’ project was more academic. We undertook the task of conducting an evaluation of the silt material which had accumulated at the cliff in Orłowo where the sand had been taken away by the sea. The final project ‒ ‘The Diving Course’ is the least academic. A bunch of us from the academic circle decided that a good oceanographer has to be able to dive and we got a diving school to run a course for us.
Do you plan to stay at the university after the MA?
I think I took the decision earlier that I’d stay, since it’s hard to be a maritime biologist and spend your time on something practical and directly linked to economy, especially that I study plankton which is of great significance for maritime biologists but has little to do with economy. Now Dr Agata Weydmann and I have put in an application for a ‘Diamentowy Grant’ and if it is accepted, then I automatically go into the third level of studies and if not, then I have to apply individually for the same level. We’ll see later – I definitely want to keep on studying jellyfish and other gelatinous organisms.
You’ve already mentioned a little that diving is your hobby.
I started diving at lower-secondary school and now I want to infect other students with the passion. I think that diving is the biggest hobby in my life but it’s a still a bit of a time-consuming pastime. You can dive in the Baltic but if you’re looking for greatest experiences, you have to have time and money, which is tricky if you’re a student. Things can be arranged, though. The key is having friends who can understand that it’s hard for me to go with them when I’m writing something, but they’re understanding and sometimes we meet at very unconventional hours of the day. I am allowed to dive to 30 metres, so that’s the limit I’ve reached so far but I hope to get further qualifications. I usually dive in lakes, so at 30 metres you see nothing or only with a torch. Polish lakes are very underrated. The shore-line is wonderful but not everyone knows that there is some quite interesting biodiversity under the surface. At sea, the 30 metres allows me to see coral reefs, various organisms and not only tiny fish. I think diving is really worth it and I recommend it to everyone.
Interview: Krzysztof Klinkosz
Photography: Piotr Pędziszewski