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#WomenofNOAA: Meet Segayle Thompson, PhD
Chantel
/ Categories: OWAQ News

#WomenofNOAA: Meet Segayle Thompson, PhD

Segayle Thompson, PhD, is the Hurricane Supplemental Coordinator in NOAA’s Office of Weather and Air Quality. She aligns multi-line efforts in managing the Improving Forecasting and Assimilation (IFAA) portfolio of the FY18 Hurricane Supplemental and the Improving Forecasts of Hurricanes, Floods, and Wildfires (IFHFW) portfolio for the FY19 Supplemental.


By Chantel Bivins, Web/Communications Specialist

Segayle Thompson, PhD, is the Hurricane Supplemental Coordinator in NOAA’s Office of Weather and Air Quality. She aligns multi-line efforts in managing the Improving Forecasting and Assimilation (IFAA) portfolio of the FY18 Hurricane Supplemental and the Improving Forecasts of Hurricanes, Floods, and Wildfires (IFHFW) portfolio for the FY19 Supplemental.

How did you get where you are today, and who/what helped you along the way?

Mentors have been instrumental throughout my journey, especially as I contemplate career moves. Mentors and advocates encouraged me to apply for specific positions and stretch my knowledge and experience. I received my Bachelors in Meteorology from Penn State in University Park, Pennsylvania and a PhD in Atmospheric Science from Howard University in Washington, DC. After earning my degrees, I was hired at NASA Goddard to work with the cloud modeling group as a fellow in the NASA Postdoc Program (NPP). After about two years, I received a job offer from the Department of Defense (DOD) and worked with them as a visiting scientist for two years. From there I went to academia and at the urging of a few mentors applied for my current position at NOAA.

What drew you to your career field? 

My interest in atmospheric science started as a high school freshman during the science fair.   While walking home I saw the most beautiful cumulonimbus clouds forming and decided to do my science project on cloud formation. Since then, I have been fascinated with clouds and weather.

Why NOAA?

As an undergraduate student, I was aware of NOAA and some of the research they conducted because part of my graduate education was funded, through the NOAA Center for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) program at Howard University. Additionally, since many of my colleagues were part of the various Educational Partnership Program (EPP) cohorts, I was familiar with NOAA’s  mission and commitment to education. I have always worked with scientists from NOAA and found the agency’s work relevant and interesting. I was drawn to the idea that people loved the work that they did, felt valued and recognized that their work really mattered.

Tell me about your position at OWAQ.

I work across five line offices (OAR, NWS, NESDIS, OMAO, and NOS)  to coordinate and help manage Improving Forecasting and Assimilation (IFAA) portfolio of the FY18 Hurricane Supplemental and the Improving Forecasts of Hurricanes, Floods, and Wildfires (IFHFW) portfolio for the FY19 Supplemental.  This position entails me working on Program Management Council briefings, contracts, grants and cooperative agreements. I work directly with Federal Project and Sub-project Managers, Federal Program Officers (FPOs), NOAA’s Research and Development Database (NRDD) staff, Administrative Officers (AO), and an array of individuals to make sure the programs are successful, funds are obligated on time and the research needle is moved forward in a timely manner. Additionally, we want to make sure this research positively impacts the weather enterprise and the broader community.

How was your transition from Academia to NOAA? 

The transition from academia to NOAA was very natural for me. Generally speaking, my position at NOAA is much more collaborative than my experiences in academia. This is one of the things that I really enjoy about this position. As the Hurricane Supplemental Coordinator, I align research activities across five NOAA line offices at various administrative and technical levels.  I enjoy being in this collaborative space because it gives me a wide breadth of knowledge.

Did you face any obstacles?

During the transition, my biggest obstacle was communicating effectively with various audiences and translating technical or administrative information to all levels. I am responsible for making sure that everyone is on the same page and has the most up to date information, especially since things can change quickly.

How does your current position influence your research interests and your future in science?

My career has transitioned more into Program Management but I’m still very interested in the  research being done, particularly the modeling improvements that are laying the groundwork for the Unified Forecasting System. Helping them [researchers/scientists] get it done within scope and budget is important. By transitioning the research operations (R2O) or applications (R2X), there will be improved models that will help protect lives and property. Again, the goal is to make sure the research transitions into the broader positive outcomes for the community.

Describe a typical day for you.

My typical day includes corresponding with various members of the team (project managers, FPOs, budget personnel), answering questions on grants or statuses, working with executives to make sure the project managers and Private Investigators (PIs) have the necessary resources (i.e. High Performance Computing) that they need to complete their project. It is varied but typical days can span numerous tasks, including coordinating all of those activities. I am trying to move forward with the program so it can continue to meet the two-year deadline for obligating funds. It takes 2-3 years to execute the research.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I enjoy being able to communicate on different levels although it is one of my biggest challenges. I also enjoy being a part of the team that is facilitating research that will lead to better forecasting of severe weather.

How do you achieve work-life balance?

Work-Life balance is a challenge. As a whole, I try to be 100% present wherever I am at the time. When I am at work, I try to focus on the tasks and duties that I have for that day and the same when I am outside of work.  There are times that this doesn’t work, and for those times, I focus on completing what is most important and get back to the original task. Knowing when and how to straddle the fence to make plans work for both is an essential art that I am still improving.

Define a great scientist or  leader - what are some traits you think great leaders/scientists possess?

I think the indication of a great leader is that they focus not just on the mission, but also on the people within the organization that are working daily to meet the mission. That is one of the reasons that I enjoy working in NOAA Research “OAR”. I find that our leaders in OAR and OWAQ have a strong focus on the people and they understand that people help to drive and achieve the mission. Scientists, in general, are mission focused, but I believe science should always address the impact of the work on the lives of people.

What was the most impactful lesson you’ve learned in your career? 

Be willing to change and to do something someone else may not be willing to do. This has opened various opportunities for me that I otherwise would not have considered.

What have you learned about leadership, entrepreneurship and mentoring others?

I think overall leadership is how you help the people you are working with make progress on their goals and the goals of the organization. There are many different leadership styles and they all work in different situations. The key is to know which style works best in which situation and understand how to implement each style. Mentors have been important in my career, by encouraging me to apply for certain positions and pushing me to be comfortably uncomfortable. I have learned that this is space where the most growth happens because you are advancing beyond the personal limitations that you may have set for yourself.  While in undergraduate and graduate school, I was a part of a program that allowed me to be mentored by various scientists, community leaders and peers. This holistic mentoring approach was critical in fostering my desire to mentor others.

What is your greatest accomplishment?

The successful planning of the FY18 Supplemental has been very rewarding for me. I jumped in midstream to help coordinate this very broad work as a new employee to NOAA. With the help of all stakeholders and partners, including the executives, program managers, federal program officers, Grants Management Division, budget and AO personnel, we were able to get the funds obligated and see some early progress as these projects transition to execution.

Personally, raising two girls that enjoy and want to pursue science fields is a great source of pride. One daughter is very strong in science and wants to be an engineer, while the other truly enjoys math and solving difficult problems. I am also passionate about participating in youth STEM programs, mainly because I noticed a lack of representation when I was young. I want the next generation of scientists to be more diverse and fearless. I want them to be able to say, “yes I can be a successful meteorologist, atmospheric scientist, oceanographer, engineer,” or whatever they desire, because they have been exposed to successful scientists that look like them and have gone through the process. I see the progress on this front, but I do think it is something that the community has to continue to advance. Fostering this type of growth in girls in the STEM field is very important to me.

What does success mean to you?

Success is continuing to be able to contribute and push science and research forward in both technical and programmatic ways. In addition, helping to make sure the next generation is even more passionate and engaged in science and the world around them.

What do you hope to accomplish in the future? 

I hope to see continued program success within the FY18 and FY19 Supplementals. Specifically, as these projects conclude and begin to move closer to operations, I look forward to seeing the advancements that will be leveraged to develop the Unified Forecasting System (UFS) and the impacts that they will have on forecasting severe weather events.

What do you hope the future for women in science looks like?

I have a positive outlook for women in science. It is a positive that more young women are going into the sciences fields and I hope to see continual progress in all STEM fields. As the number of women and underrepresented minorities in colleges and universities increase, we should see some increases in the numbers that are coming through the pipeline in the STEM fields. As a community we need to encourage women and underrepresented minorities within the pipeline, build capacity to increase the pipeline, and provide job opportunities and resources. When students and young scientists attend conferences and workshops, where they see themselves represented, they feel validated and that the scientific community sees their value.

What is the best advice ever given to you by a mentor or colleague? 

The best advice given to me was to be comfortably uncomfortable. This means you need to be comfortable enough to be efficient and effective, but uncomfortable in knowing that you will not know all of the answers. That area of discomfort is when you really learn new things and grow professionally by reaching out to others, attending training, or doing research to find or create solutions.

What advice would you give to young women who want to succeed in the workplace and/or STEM?

I encourage young women to be passionate about their work, find an area of interest and become a leader in that area, step outside of their comfort zone, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Find a mentor for your journey and be willing to be a mentor for others on their journey.

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