Current Project

Working Title: Lamp On The Ice

My current project is a narrative nonfiction diving deep into a pivotal moment in the history of Antarctica. For centuries, men charted paths across its icy expanse, pursuing dangerous discoveries and thrilling adventures, all while fiercely defending their boys-only club at the bottom of the world. “Lamp On The Ice” is based around the 1976-77 diaries of my co-author, Dr. Donna Oliver, written during her groundbreaking year living and working at McMurdo Station, Antarctica.

Dr. Oliver was the fifth woman ever to winter in Antarctica and the first to winter alone, spending more than six months as the only woman on the entire continent. Her adventures on the ice were constantly interrupted not only by the famous moods of the frozen south, but also by the tumultuous politics of the day. The 70s saw the shift from Navy to civilian administration of the US Polar Program. Dr. Oliver witnessed the end of the wild west of polar science and the beginning of the private contractor era of forms, cost cutting, and control.

Just about the only thing the military, civilian, and private interests could agree on during her time there was the question of women … women didn’t belong in Antarctica! Dr. Oliver had to outmaneuver, and sometimes endure, endless barriers thrown up by the defenders of their women-free polar club.

Despite the adversity, her summers were filled with adventures assisting divers in the first dive under the Ross Ice Shelf, tagging seals on the frozen Ross Sea, and accompanying teams on harrowing helicopter flights full of daring aerial acrobatics under the unsetting sun. During her winter she fought the effects of isolation and a four month night to complete a groundbreaking study into the psychology of isolation. Her study has been cited in research as varied as space travel and COVID-19 lockdowns, benefiting researchers for over forty-five years.

“Lamp On The Ice” is a story of triumph amid adversity, revealing the raw beauty of the frozen south and the tenacity of an unsung pioneering heroine.

The manuscript is in the final stages of editing. If you are interested in more information, interviews, or in publishing, please contact me or Dr. Oliver.

Get to Know Dr. Donna Oliver

Visit Donna Online

Check out her website

Or on social media – her instagram is amazing

Dr. Oliver is a humanistic psychologist with over forty years of experience with isolation psychology, developmental psychology, teaching, and counseling. She was the fifth woman to winter below the Antarctic circle and the first to do it solo, making her the only woman on the continent for almost seven months over winter 1977. After her retirement in 20** and the stunning revelations of the National Science Foundation’s report on sexual harassment on the ice, Dr. Oliver decided to write a book detailing her year on the ice.

Donna decided to become a psychologist early in life, but she started college in an era when the study of psychology was the study of everything that could go wrong with the human mind. Psychology departments of the late sixties were fixated on psychopathology and psychometrics … in other words, disorders, and testing for disorders. The standard academic conversations of the day sorted human behavior into checklists, simplifying the mind into basic, often negative, categories.

None of it sat right with Donna. After an entire semester being forced to play mad-mouse god, manipulating the behavior of mice stuck in mazes, she almost quit. She wondered what could we really learn about humanity by playing god for some poor mouse-Theseus stuck in a cheese-minotaur’s labyrinth. During her quest for a better way to study the human condition, Donna found her better way on the pages of Abraham Maslow’s “Toward a Psychology of Being.”

She set out to find a new graduate program with an emphasis on the emerging branch of psychology called humanism. She flourished in a program that concerned itself with the science of helping people realize their full potential and left the poor mice alone. She earned her Masters and, nearing the end of her PhD program in 1976, she was given an amazing opportunity to winter at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. 

Her groundbreaking journey included spending almost seven months overwinter and the lone woman on Antarctica, isolated with seventy-seven men at McMurdo Station, was driven by a dual purpose: to demonstrate women’s strength and explore the psychological impacts of isolation and confinement. Her pioneering research, conducted during a seven-month winter-over at McMurdo Base, became the basis for her dissertation on this subject.

Contrary to expectations, her findings revealed unexpected positive growth among individuals enduring isolation. This research gained widespread attention, being presented in various forums, including a PBS special, conferences, and international gatherings. It resonated with emerging fields like salutogenesis and influenced studies on isolation psychology, women’s studies, space exploration, and studies of the lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

After her time on the ice, Dr. Oliver shifter her focus to working in developmental psychology. After four decades in that field, she decided to revisit her time in Antarctica. She kept an extensive diary during her time on the ice and given the social and political questions of the day, she recognized its modern relevance: shedding light on historical gender dynamics crucial for advancing gender equality, providing insights into isolation psychology pertinent to space exploration plans, aligning with lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic’s confinement effects, and impacting global social science research in various fields.

She has spent the last few years writing her account of her year at McMurdo and advocating for the rights of women on the ice and in science generally. Her place in history shows an important bridge in the story of America in Antarctica, highlighting what has gotten better and what has stayed the same.

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