Nicole Baldwin aboard a Sea King helicopter over the Mediterranean Sea during her one-year deployment in 2016

Sailing and studying

While many students spend their time off from school looking to make extra money with a part-time job, Nicole Baldwin’s job search led her to something far more adventurous and extreme.

By Chris Morin

Instead of working in retail, in restaurants or in an office, she has chased drug smugglers off the coast of South America and encountered Russian ships in oceans around the world while serving in the Canadian naval reserves.

But while her escapades on the high seas may seem worlds apart from her research at the U of S, Baldwin has nevertheless managed to split her time between working on her Master of Science in Toxicology, while also serving in the reserves.

After completing her undergrad degree in toxicology, Baldwin had two paths in front of her. The first option was the opportunity to sail the world. The other would see her back on campus continuing her academic studies. After taking a year off from school to commit to the military full-time, Baldwin now sails the seven seas in addition to studying aquatic life.

“To come from my undergrad at the U of S and to go sailing in oceans around the world, or to be in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea during a refugee crisis, it was a completely different perspective that few people get to experience,” she said.

“Initially, I put in three months doing work-ups—pre-deployment checks that are done prior to sailing overseas—while off the west coast of Canada. From there we were deployed for nine months, which was spent entirely on ship at sea, with docking at ports for a day or two around the world. The whole experience was an adventure.”

The most exciting times at sea were also some of the worst times, and Baldwin admits that not everyone is cut out for naval life.

“We hit a very rough patch in the China Sea while we were heading back to the west coast, but we had a job to do and when you are in a spot like that you realize that you have a responsibility.”

While she maintains a separation between her military service and her academic life, Baldwin admits that there is plenty of overlap between the two worlds.

“In a lot of ways it feels like a double life. But my military experience is also relevant in that learning to multi-task and personal accountability comes into play all the time here,” she said. “My job on ship—to have the ability to listen to a hundred different voices in a stressful situation and still focus—helps with my academic career.”

In addition to finishing her master’s degree—studying aquatic exposures to chemicals and how they are affecting the immune systems of amphibians—Baldwin hopes to continue her career with a civilian position in the military, with thoughts of eventually finishing her PhD.

“I’ve always been interested in the physical and life sciences, and toxicology is a good balance between that,” she said. “That said, I love the lifestyle of being on board a ship, and I don’t feel like I am ready to be away from that part of my life.”