Thursday 14 April 2016 11:58am
University of Otago alumna Agnieszka Fryckowska’s meteorological support work has taken her from the depths of Antarctica to Buckingham Palace, where she will receive the Polar Medal for her British Antarctic Survey service from HM Queen Elizabeth on Friday, April 22.
Fryckowska, who lives in the UK, is “humbled and proud to be a Kiwi receiving the medal.”
After completing a Bachelor of Science in 1995 and Postgraduate Diploma in Science (Geography) in 1996 at Otago she gained a master’s degree in water management from Cranfield University, England.
She credits her studies, and later work as a hydrologist, as key to gaining a British Antarctic Survey (BAS) posting in 2004.
During her first BAS assignment – a 34-month stint at Rothera Research Station, Antarctica – she was responsible for daily meteorological observations and maintenance of “long-term” monitoring equipment.
She later served as Winter Station Leader at Halley V and VI stations and as summer Station Leader at Bird Island and Rothera stations, before leaving the BAS in 2015.
“Neither of these jobs are your typical nine-to-five, and that's partly what I loved about it. Also, it was a huge privilege to be part of a very small group of dedicated individuals – the close teamwork and dedication of colleagues enabled us to deliver world-class science.”
Living and working in such an extreme and isolated environment for long periods tested both her “physical abilities, and also the mental and emotional.”
Fryckowska says her recent career achievements were underpinned by her Otago study;
“Essentially, if it hadn't been for my time at Otago I'm not sure I would have ever considered working in the Antarctic. While studying I was surrounded by exciting and varied science in the Geography department, which included work in the Antarctic and opened my eyes to the opportunities,” she says.
Two staff members still in the University’s Department of Geography – Professor Sean Fitzsimons and Professor Richard Morgan – were “stand-out” lecturers, but her experience with the Department “as a whole was a very positive one.”
“Every day I think about how lucky I have been to have lived and worked in such an amazing location for such a great organisation. I hope this recognition can give some inspiration to young Kiwis to go out and try new things – you never know where you may end up.”
Fryckowska, who is training to be a pilot, hopes to return to work in the Antarctic in future.
About: The Polar Medal was instituted in 1857 as the Arctic Medal and renamed the in 1904 to reward participants in Captain Robert F. Scott’s successful first expedition to the Antarctic region.
The medal was also intended for those who gave valuable service in any subsequent expedition in conditions of extreme hardship, whether explorers and scientists or naval officers and crew.
Recipients include Sir Ernest Shackleton, Captain Robert F. Scott, Sir Edmund Hillary and Sir Vivian Fuchs, explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes and his late wife Virginia, who received the medal in 1987.