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Interview with Dr. Gerald Auer

Dr. Takashi Toyofuku, Director of Marine Science and Technology Strategy Department has a conversation with Dr. Gerald Auer, one of the Young Research Fellows in JAMSTEC. He has been investigating the tiny fossils in the marine sediments to reconstruct the environment in the geological past.

Gerald Auer, Dr.
Recipient of JAMSTEC Young Research Fellow 2017-2020
Takashi Toyofuku, Dr.
Director of Marine Science and Technology Strategy Department

Hello, Gerald. Please introduce yourself. At first, where are you from?

Originally, I’m from Austria, where I got my Ph.D in 2016 at the University of Graz.

Please explain the research topic you are working right now.

I am a geobiologist and paleoceanographer studying past changes in ocean productivity in shallow marine areas. I mainly work with calcareous nannofossils, which are the fossil remains of coccolithophores, tiny algae which live near the ocean surface. They are so called primary producers and represent an important part of the marine food chain. I use their fossils in combination with geochemical analysis to reconstruct changes in marine productivity during times of intense climate change in the geological past. With this, I hope to determine how past climate change affected matter and nutrient fluxes the ocean.

What is the motivation for you to come overseas to Japan?

Well … that’s an interesting question. While I worked on my PhD in Austria, I was fortunate enough to be selected as a participant of IODP (ann.: International Ocean Discovery Program) Expedition 356 ‘Indonesian Throughflow’. As part of such an expedition you have the opportunity, but also a responsibility, to work on the recovered material. This meant I was specifically looking for an international institution with a strong research profile in oceanography and (paleo-)climate research, where I could do my own research the research questions that arose from IODP Expedition 356. And well, JAMSTEC came to mind rather quickly since it hosts on of the three IODP core repositories, were all cores from the Indian Ocean are stored. So, imagine my luck that they actually offered Research Fellowships that specifically allow you to propose your own research goals as part of the application process.

So, it was mainly a professional decision for you?

Not at all. Of course these immediate scientific considerations were an important factor when I looking for potential positions. But I was also certain that I wanted to experience a new research culture, compared to the one I became familiar with in Europe. Long story short I was specifically for a truly international postdoc experience, that would really broaden by horizon, both academically but also on a personal level. And Japan certainly allows you to do that. It’s a new and enjoyable experience every day.

What are the advantages of being a JAMSTEC Young Research Fellow?

Oh, that’s easy to answer. It’s for one the incredible methodical capabilities of the JAMSTEC laboratories and the immense know-how of the senior-researchers. Especially as a paleoceanographer and geobiologist I immensely appreciate the close connection with physical oceanographers, biogeochemists but also marine biologists here at JAMSTEC, there is a lot of discussion and exchange between all these fields, especially during the cross-disciplinary JAMSTEC Young Research Fellow Meetings that are organized several times a year.
But most importantly being JAMSTEC Young Research Fellow means that you need to design and work on your own project, which I really was ideal for me. This includes also your own discretionary research budget here at JAMSTEC, meaning it great to learn about handling your own research project and budget. It’s intended to be a very independent position, where you act as a collaborator and not as a classical postdoc that is hired to work in the project for a PI (ann. Principal Investigator).

How is your life in Japan? Didn’t you feel cultural gap?

Now that’s a loaded question. Especially the second part.
Well, to be honest, I would be lying, if I said I wasn’t at least a bit worried about that before I moved here. Reading some stories of people feeling isolated here didn’t help either, I guess. But after coming here most of these worries vanished nearly immediately. And now that I’ve lived in Japan for over two years now, I can honestly say that I feel at home here. In retrospect I don’t feel like I had a very difficult time adjusting to Japan or Japanese culture. Sure, it’s not like Austria, but that is a part of what makes living here so interesting and rewarding. Sure, especially in the beginning the language barrier was always present, especially in my everyday life. But with all the help you get from JAMSTEC it was never really a problem.

So, there is a lot of support from JAMSTEC?

Loads. Especially for incoming international Young Research Fellows. They help you set up all your life here in Japan, and even send someone with you to translate in case you need it in the beginning. They even organize Japanese lessons directly at JAMSTEC, which helps a lot, since taking care of that yourself when you are busy with work can be troublesome.

What’s coming up next for you?

Good question. I still have about a year left here at JAMSTEC, so I definitely want to make the most of my remaining time here. But one thing is clear, I really would like to continue my research that I started here at JAMSTEC in the future. I learned a lot of new things here and made great friends. So, I definitely also would not mind staying a bit longer here at JAMSTEC.

Thank you very much.