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Expedition Leader J. Patrick Hickey

Question:
What are your main responsibilities as expedition leader?

Pat:
I work closely with the captain of Atlantis in planning the joint operations of the sub and ship for science, and I act as a primary liaison with the scientists who come onboard. I am also responsible for all the at-sea aspects of Alvin operations, including logistics, certification, and pilot status. When we’re at sea and it involves Alvin, the buck stops with me.

Question:
When did you start working at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution?

Pat:
In the mid-1980s, I was working in the offshore commercial diving business all over the world and I met someone who told me about WHOI and the Alvin program. I found out that WHOI was accepting applications for people to work in the Alvin group, so I submitted an application. After about six months I was interviewed, and accepted the job offer in 1987.

Question:
Growing up, what kind of career did you want?

Pat:
School was OK, but I liked fixing things more than reading books. Also, my dad had an offshore oil service business, and at a young age I got involved in many aspects of his business. I knew when I was a teenager that I wanted to focus my career on offshore industries and diving.

Question:
How did you acquire the skills you needed to become the expedition leader?

Pat:
Initially I gained a tremendous amount of experience before graduating high school, by working with my dad in offshore oil industries. After a year of college, I decided to move on to a technical commercial diving school and then worked in the oil industry for about 10 years with diving, submersible, and remotely operated vehicle systems.

I worked my way up to supervisory positions during that period. Then I moved on to work at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and moved into the expedition leader slot when it opened because of my oilfield background and accumulated Alvin experience.

Question:
What advice do you have for people interested in your line of work?

Pat:
Experience is essential. So is learning principles of physics, mechanics, acoustics, and electronics. Plus, working with many different scientists helps. That has given me a great view of the types of instruments they need to do their work and lots of information about many different oceanographic fields, including marine geology, chemistry, and biology.

Question:
What do you like most about your job?

Pat:
The people. We get a new science crew onboard about every month and it is really great to share their ideas and enthusiasm. You never do the same thing twice. Plus I don’t have to work in an office.

Question:
What questions are you most often asked about diving in Alvin?

Pat:
Kids always ask how we go to the bathroom in the sub. The answer is, we have this bottle...

Originally published: June 5, 2004