By Chantel Bivins, Web/Communications Specialist
How did you get where you are today, and who/what helped you along the way?
I started as an International Affairs major at Northeastern University in Boston – I wanted to go into politics. After a year I left to attend community college where I got my AA in graphic design. While there, I had to take a science elective to fulfill my requirement and the only one that fit my schedule was meteorology. It was one night a week. I changed my major because I loved it so much. I almost went to the University of Tampa, but instead I drove my application to University of Massachusetts Lowell after hearing they had a meteorology program to apply at the last possible minute and got in.
During this transition three people helped me a lot. Two of my undergraduate professors Drs. Frank Colby Mathew Barlow. Dr. Ben Kirtman, my graduate advisor and mentor, was very instrumental in shaping my career. They all assisted me during various parts of my journey from applying to graduate school to pondering climate science to mentoring. A positive mindset also helped me along the way – to remember perseverance, persistence and pushing forward even when I wanted to quit.
What drew you to the field of science?
It had a lot to do with Marcy Vozzela. She was the community college professor who taught my meteorology elective, and had worked in science her entire life. I remember when I was learning about El Niño and I was drawing a diagram on the board. I thought it was so cool that this one thing could have an impact across the globe, and Marcy noted I sounded like a meteorologist. I found meteorology and science interesting and that is how I landed in the field. Marcy Vozzela, a woman accomplished in the field of science and great at communicating concepts, rubbed off on me with her passion.
How was your transition from postdoc to NOAA? Did you face any obstacles?
One of the biggest challenges was the atmosphere. I was used to working independently and in a more casual environment. I was also doing less science and it was hard to restructure my brain. My current position at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC) is more academic and more in line with what I was used to. At the CPC, my obstacles are getting used to new projects and that my current project is a continuation of a prior contractors work.. I have to learn what the prior contractor did and follow in their footsteps. There are challenges but in a good way.
Describe a typical day for you.
I am new to the NOAA CPC. My one month anniversary is this week (the week of September 9th), so there is no typical day yet. I’m working on a few different things right now. The Calibration Bridging and Merging (CBaM) forecast system is intended to add skill to subseasonal to seasonal (S2S) climate predictions by applying statistical post-processing to dynamical climate model predictions. The project was worked on previously by Dr. Sarah Strazzo. I generally work on things that need to be updated and I have a lot of pressure to learn about the forecast system and how it works. I also have to make sure the subseasonal CBaM forecast system runs every week and seasonal CBaM runs monthly. I attend forecast discussions, and meet with my project supervisor, Dr. Dan Collins. Time is also spent on prediction of climate extremes and how we can assess them. I need to keep abreast of current work on climate extremes verification as well as work from former contractors Drs. Sarah Strazzo Emily Becker. Right now I am putting a lot of thought into building tools for climate extremes involving the CBaM forecast system. In addition, I am learning Python – which I am familiar with from online courses – but using it daily is challenging! The days are very varied – which is an environment that I love and thrive in.
Tell me about your position at CPC and how it influences your research interests and your future in science.
My research interests have always been outward facing. I am drawn to applied climatology and creating products and tools or research that leads to improvements for decision makers and/or climate data users. In terms of CPC, I am working on tools and products used by climate forecasters. This current avenue is one that I hope to continue because this is in line with my research interests.
How are you applying what you learned at OWAQ to CPC?
I learned a lot about the grants process, Climate Testbed (CTB) and the funding part of science at NOAA’s Office of Weather and Air Quality (OWAQ). I also acquired some insights and introduction on how NOAA works behind the scenes on science projects. It is great information to have as a researcher.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
The challenge. I love being challenged and the feeling of being accomplished at the end of the day, especially when it involves helping forecast operations. The problems I work on are hard and take a lot of thought but it is great to know the outcome will influence something that has immediate feedback.
How do you achieve work-life balance?
I have a lot of hobbies (most of which are really geeky!) and try to remember to have a life outside of work, although I find it difficult to leave work at work. I am always trying to solve problems in my head – which I think is very common for researchers! I do find that exercise helps keep you more centered and calm thoughts.
Define a great scientist or researcher; What are some traits you think great scientist or researcher possess?
I think that the traits that define a great researcher or scientist are perseverance, communication skills, and creativity.
What was the most impactful lesson you’ve learned so far in your career?
That its okay to make mistakes. It is a fact of life. Sometimes you will have a day or week and you feel like you are treading water and not moving forward. Science is hard. We work on hard problems, and sometimes you hit roadblocks. It is important to remember not to give up, because you will find a path forward. It may not be the one you initially thought but you will find one.
What is your greatest accomplishment?
I’m very proud of my postdoctoral research and work, including my final research paper (currently in revision). It was a step out of the box for me, as it wasn’t strictly academic research, and was more applied climatology. I worked with the Everglades restoration community to aid in better understanding of climate science and projections, including uncertainty surrounding future climate changes. I planned and led a workshop for Everglades restoration practitioners in Florida where I communicated with climate data users to determine a path forward for climate projection research that would be most useful for them. This shaped research questions and papers around their needs and I created a tool for climate projections and uncertainty that I hope will be useful to Everglades restoration practitioners needing more information on changes in climate over south Florida.
What does success mean to you?
I don’t think we ever fully achieve success. You just keep pushing your goals further and further. It is important to me to not give up in achieving my goals, even when they’re pushed further!
What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
I would like to continue working in the realm of climate prediction, hopefully to influence forecast operations in a meaningful and positive way.
What do you think the future for women in science will look like?
I think women are gaining traction in the field. We do face a lot of challenges but recently I’ve seen more women step up and be heard and try to reach their goals. I hope that the future has more women who rise to the challenge and enter the fray. My main hope for the future is that women are in positions of leadership in science, respected for their ideas and opinions, and are heard.
What is the best advice ever given to you by a mentor or colleague?
This is going to sound weird but “don’t let perfection hold you back.” You can focus so much on the small details it can keep you from seeing the larger picture and hinder you from moving forward. Similar to “don’t sweat the small stuff”. It was said to me because I tended to let small mistakes overwhelm me. Sometimes you make mistakes in science, and truthfully you’ll be wrong a lot, but you need to move past that. My graduate advisor, Dr. Ben Kirtman, was a big proponent of this notion for me.
What advice would you give to young women who want to succeed in the workplace and/or STEM?
Be strong, be assertive, and keep moving forward.