A day in the life: My internship at a remote Alaskan research station

Hi! I’m Emma Rudy Srebnik, a 2022 Hollings scholar. Welcome to a day in the life during my summer internship at NOAA Fisheries’ Little Port Walter Research Station, Alaska’s oldest year-round biological research station! Little Port Walter is located in the Tongass National Forest and quite remote! It is only accessible by float plane or boat.  

Emma Rudy sits on a smooth weathered log that is lying in shallow water and smiles, looking up at the sky. The water flows into a mountainous Alaskan landscape behind her.

Emma Rudy Srebnik admiring the clouds and Alaskan landscape during her 2023 Hollings internship with NOAA Fisheries' Little Port Walter Research Station. (Image credit: Heather Fulton-Bennett)

7:18 a.m.

Wake-up! On a few occasions, I naturally woke up at 4 a.m. and would go outside to watch the sunrise, but usually not! 

A sunrise over water, with silhouetted trees on either side of the inlet.
Emma Rudy rose early enough to capture the 4:00 a.m. Alaskan sunrise. (Image credit: Emma Rudy Srebnik)

8:00 a.m.

The work day begins! Every day at Little Port Walter looked a bit different, but we always started with morning tasks, which included:

  • Taking weather data (Little Port has been recording weather since the 1930s!!).
  • Recording freshwater temperature as well as ocean temperature, pH, and salinity.
  • Checking our “Fish Aggregating Device,” or FAD, for adult Chinook salmon migrating back to Little Port Walter. We collected these fish and took their measurements, genetic samples, and recovered coded-wire tags that indicate the year in which they were released from Little Port Walter.
A fishing net lying on a wooden dock with a salmon overtop it.
A (quite large) Chinook salmon caught in the FAD. This female salmon was likely around six-years old with a weight of 17.46 kg and length of 933 mm. (Image credit: Heather Fulton-Bennett)

9:30 a.m.

Some days after morning tasks we would go to our salmon weir, which enables monitoring of all fish migrating upstream, to check water levels or do other maintenance projects. Other days we would collect juvenile Chinook salmon for salt water challenges to see how well they can tolerate the transition from freshwater to saltwater. The overall goal of the saltwater challenges is to develop a stock of Chinook salmon for aquaculture that would only require one year in the hatchery prior to their oceanic migration rather than two years. If we had a torrential downpour (not uncommon for Little Port Walter, the second rainiest place in North America), we might spend a few hours inside working on data projects or reading coded wire tags under a microscope. 


A close-up photo of a finger with a barely visible thin piece of metal resting on it.
Coded wire tags like this one can be used to track Chinook salmon and inform conservation and management efforts. (Image credit: Charlie Waters/ NOAA)
A view through a microscope of a thin metal bar with numbers etched into it. It is about half the width of the forceps that hold it.
Some days, Emma Rudy would use a microscope to view and read coded wire tags like this one. (Image credit: Charlie Waters/ NOAA)

12:00 p.m.

Lunch time! Despite my mentor sending me lots of information and photos before my internship, I still did not expect the living conditions to be as nice as they were. In the white house, the main house for temporary researchers to live in over the summer, there was a fully stocked kitchen where delicious meals were frequently crafted. After eating, I often took my book down to the dock or went canoeing with the other intern, Aksiin. Nearly every canoe, we saw humpback whales very close!! It was incredible to feel so in touch with nature. 

Emma Rudy is outside, submerged up to her neck in a body of water with evergreen trees at the shore across the water. She's smiling and reading a book that she holds just above the water.
Reading my (waterproof) book in the water!​​​​ (Image credit: Heather Fulton-Bennett/ NOAA)

1:00 p.m.

Back to work! Part of the Hollings internship involves an independent research project. For mine, I looked at the potential influence of climate change and relative fish abundance on the condition factor of juvenile steelhead trout. In other words, we were curious how changing environmental variables (freshwater temperature, rainfall, snow) and abundances of fish species cohabitating the local stream might impact how fat steelhead that are migrating out can become. Oftentimes, I spent a few hours in the afternoon cleaning data in R, reading past papers, or creating figures and models. Working with a long-term data set (4,500+ steelhead smolts!) proved to be both challenging and exciting!

Emma Rudy is standing at a lab bench, concentrating carefully on her work. She is using a pair of forceps to lift the gill of a small fish and holds a second pair of forceps in her other hand.
Sometimes we would finish up experiments from the morning after lunch. Here, I am collecting gill samples from a baby Chinook salmon. (Image credit: Charlie Waters/ NOAA)

5:00 p.m.

Work day concludes! I always tried to do something active before dinner. Sometimes this meant running laps around the float dock (there aren’t any real roads or long trails at Little Port Walter) and other days I would go open water swimming to test how long I could last in 6-8°C (42-46°F) water.

Emma Rudy smiles, floating on her back in shallow water. The nearby island is thick with evergreen trees. She wears swim goggles and her skin looks to be reddened from the cold water.
Floating in the ocean post-open water swim.​​​ (Image credit: Heather Fulton-Bennett/ NOAA)

6:30 p.m.

Dinner time! Honestly, this was a highlight of most days. The other researchers at Little Port Walter were all incredibly nice and interesting people. We got into the routine of cooking most dinners together. It was fun to experiment with the various ingredients we foraged from the wilderness or the back of the pantry. We made some pretty delicious meals. 

A close-up photo of a meal that looks professionally made and plated in a shallow bowl with a gold rim and NOAA logo.
Freshly caught and marinated halibut served with a peanut sauce; roasted Japanese sweet potato; rice; homemade seaweed salad, and quick-pickled bull kelp, cucumbers, and carrots topped with a red columbine flower.  (Image credit: Emma Rudy Srebnik)

9:00 p.m.

Canoe time! At the start of the summer, especially, Aksiin and I frequently went for sunset canoes. It’s hard to describe just how peaceful this time of day was in remote Alaska. Not another person in sight, just us and the humpback whales, seals, deer, and more. Sometimes we would paddle to a small island and explore. Other times we would just canoe to the end of the bay. Once back, it was time to go to sleep!

An Alaskan landscape of calm water in an inlet, with a silhouette of two people in a canoe nearly equidistant between land on either side of the inlet. The land on one side is low and flat and the other a rising slop of evergreen trees. In the distance, grey mountainous terrain rests under an overcast sky. The gray and blue tones of the photo create a sense of peace and quiet.
Peace. (Image credit: Steve Wiechmann)

After a week of work, we all took advantage of our time off on the weekends. I enjoyed the opportunity to explore the surrounding mountains and muskeg (a peat bog). With no real trails, we bushwhacked up mountains following in the (literal) footsteps of deer and brown bears and hung tightly to blueberry bushes on our way down. The views at the top made the difficulties of getting there so worth it. Once back on station, I usually tried to convince people to join me in cold water dips off the dock. Another favorite weekend activity of mine had to be freediving. I got to swim through my first kelp forest and see lots of cool invertebrates, which I enjoyed. 

Emma Rudy posing with her arms spread on top of a mountain. The vegetation is low-lying, allowing for a clear vista of the surrounding mountains.
 "Choose your own adventure" style of hiking up mountains.  (Image credit: Aksiin Storer)

I’ve grown not only as a scientist, but also in general. I strongly encourage future scholars and interns to not be afraid to push yourself outside of your comfort zone.

Emma Rudy Srebnik

Before landing in Little Port Walter (via none other than a float plane), I must admit I was a tad intimidated. Unsure what to expect, the idea of living in the remote wilderness for six-plus weeks seemed a bit daunting. However, once I arrived I knew I had made one of the best decisions yet. The ability to live, work, and play in such a unique ecosystem is a huge opportunity as an intern. I’ve grown not only as a scientist, but also in general. I strongly encourage future scholars and interns to not be afraid to push yourself outside of your comfort zone.

Emma Rudy Srebnik, 2022 Hollings scholar

Emma Rudy Srebnik is a 2022 Hollings scholar who is studying environmental sciences, GIS, and marine sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.