Who should work in Antarctica?

Who should work in Antarctica? An exploration of the individual, social and cultural aspects of expeditioner recruitment



Drawing on qualitative interview data, this article explores past and current Australian Antarctic Program expeditioners’ perceptions of the personal qualities of expeditioners alongside their views of Antarctic station culture and expeditioner recruitment procedures. The findings reveal study participants shared similar views about expeditioner personal qualities. However, the findings also suggest that the current demographic similarity of expeditioners (e.g. the overrepresentation of white men) is perhaps much more important for assessing organizational fit than the Program might be selecting for. Participants described the ways in which interpersonal interactions and the social environment can deeply affect an expeditioner’s experience of the station culture. Women in this study pointed to the connection between the overrepresentation of men in the expeditioner population and a potential male bias in station culture. These results extend the existing literature on person-culture fit in Antarctica. To conclude, I provide recommendations for diversifying the expeditioner applicant pool in Antarctica that can also be applied to the selection of other workforces in isolated, confined and extreme work environments, including space missions.


This article uses a qualitative sociological approach to explore some of the individual, interpersonal and organizational aspects of expeditioner selection, using the Australian Antarctic Program (AAP) as a case study. Specifically, I am interested in how expeditioners’ perceptions of high performance in Antarctica compare to their first-hand experiences of station culture and the extent to which gender plays a role in these considerations.

The exploration of this topic is timely because it is well known that National Antarctic Programs (NAPs) – the government agencies that manage national Antarctic activities – rely on selecting expeditioners based on various predictors of performance and cultural fit in Antarctica (defined here to include the Antarctic continent, sub-Antarctic Islands and the Southern Ocean). Yet, to my knowledge, there is little published research or publicly available information that illuminates precisely how NAPs select expeditioners and/or how these procedures change over time (e.g. Grant et al. Reference Grant, Eriksen, Marquis, Orre, Palinkas and Suedfeld2007).

There are also few studies discussing expeditioner selection and its relationship to the broader organizational culture of an Antarctic station or how different kinds of diversity influence team performance in extreme environments or organizational outcomes (e.g. Sarris Reference Sarris2017). Sarris (Reference Sarris2006) is one of few scholars to explore these topics in her retrospective studies of person-culture fit in the AAP. Sarris’ research is pioneering because it moves beyond the focus on individual characteristics in selection that is present in the bulk of the psychological literature. Rather, she shows why and how expeditioners have a better experience in Antarctica when they see themselves as fitting in with station norms (Sarris & Kirby Reference Sarris and Kirby2007). Here, demographic similarity is strongly linked to cultural fit – men generally report fitting in better with station culture and are more likely to return for a subsequent season.


Publication status:
In Press – Antarctic-Science

Meredith Nash*Affiliation:
Australian National University, College of Engineering and Computer Science, Acton, ACT 2601, Australia

11 November 2022

Cambridge University Press / www.cambridge.org

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