Posted: 11 November 2009 Updated: whenever
This list encompasses questions that I get over and over from students who have decided to interview me. I'm posting this here to answer most of such questions in advance.
Apparently, a fair number of students (varying ages) have chosen to interview me in order to get some idea of what a career as a professional meteorologist (researcher) is like. If you want more detailed information, see here.
1. How did you enter the field? [Job history/background]
I graduated from Willowbrook High School in Villa Park, Illinois in the spring of 1963. I then went to undergraduate school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin, graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree (Meteorology major) in the spring of 1967. During my last two summers in Madison, I worked as a student trainee at the Weather Bureau (what the National Weather Service was called way back then!) in Madison.
After graduation, I spent the first of 2-1/2 summers working as a student trainee at the National Severe Storms Forecast Center (NSSFC), in Kansas City, Missouri. I began graduate school in the fall of 1967 at the University of Oklahoma (OU), finishing my Master of Science degree (in Meteorology) in January of 1969. During my third summer at NSSFC, my name was called for military service and I entered the Army in August of 1969. After boot camp at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri and "advanced individual training" at Fort Gordon, Georgia, I spent 11 months in Phu Bai, Viet Nam as a communications clerk (it's a long ugly story). However, after Viet Nam, I was assigned to the Atmospheric Sciences Laboratory at White Sands Missile Range, in New Mexico, where I worked on fog modeling (!). I was allowed to leave the Army in February of 1972, whereupon I returned to graduate school at OU, mostly employed as a research assistant (RA) but with one semester as a teaching assistant (TA).
That spring, I began storm chasing with a group of students and other scientists, and have been doing it more or less ever since. During the last years of my doctoral studies, I was employed part-time by the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL). With my Doctor of Philosophy degree (in Meteorology) in July of 1976, I began my first real job (as a Research Forecaster), once again at NSSFC, this time with the newly-created Techniques Development Unit (TDU), which was assigned to do applications research for the Severe Local Storms Unit (SELS) of NSSFC (SELS has become the Storm Prediction Center, located here in Norman). After about six years with the TDU, I transferred to the Environmental Research Laboratories Weather Research Program in Boulder, Colorado, in the fall of 1982, as a Research Meteorologist. After four years in Boulder, I decided to take advantage of the developing opportunities here in Norman, Oklahoma, and returned to NSSL in the fall of 1986, again as a Research Meteorologist. After more than 14 years with NSSL, as of January 2001, I retired from Federal Service, and joined the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies (CIMMS) at the University of Oklahoma, as a Senior Research Scientist. It's a part-time position, and I'm continuing my involvement with teaching that I began several years ago whenever my services are needed.
For those interested in pursuing a career in meteorology, check out the NSSL Website here, for more information about the process. My research interests focus mainly on tornadoes and severe thunderstorms, but I've developed an interest in just about everything related to weather. I've published papers on objective analysis of meteorological data; exploring new data streams like wind profilers, satellite images, and lightning ground strike locaters; weather forecasting; and methods for verification of weather forecasts. My interests range wider than that, and I like meteorology in part because of the wide range of things a meteorologist needs to know.
2. What made you decide to study Meteorology?
I've been fascinated with storms since I was a boy in elementary school. In effect, somehow, meteorology chose me. It was obvious to me that this was the path I needed to follow. I can't point to any single event or moment when it became clear that I wanted to be a meteorologist. I knew even earlier I wanted to be a scientist of some sort - I considered geology (in particular, volcanology), and astronomy, as well - but by 6th grade, it was obvious to me what my career had to be.
3. How do most people enter the field?
I can’t speak for most people. However, many of the professional colleagues I know entered the field for reasons similar to mine – to do otherwise would have been an unacceptable alternative. Weather is a passion for most of us.
4. Describe your average day.
I never have an “average” day! I have no set routine and I simply do whatever needs to be done. That includes many different activities, including traveling to conferences around the world, teaching, advising students, working on projects, writing, reading, thinking, engaging in discussions with friends and colleagues, etc. Plus time spent storm chasing (about 3-4 weeks per year).
5. What would you say you spend most of your time at work doing?
See the previous response. I don’t keep track of what I do – I just do it.
6. How much variation do you get in your job?
See my answer to question #4.
7. How much time would you say you spend out in the field?
I assume that by “in the field” you mean collecting data during field observing programs. I’m not currently engaged in any field programs, and have not been so involved in field programs since 1994. That’s not my primary avenue for research. I generally work with data collected by routine procedures for the purpose of weather forecasting, rather than data collected in special field programs.
8. Have your duties changed a lot since you started working?
Not in any fundamental way. I've always been my own boss, in the sense that I use my time as I see fit, rather than adhering to some sort of work schedule. I've always been focused on weather science and that's never changed, no matter what my formal duties have been.
9. What's your goal in studying weather?
To understand as much of it as I can while I’m still able to do do.
10. What's your favorite aspect of the job? Least Favorite?
I like most everything I do, except for bureaucratic paperwork duties and having to attend certain types of bureaucratic meetings.
11. Have you studied any different fields of meteorology? If so, what's your favorite and Why?
I’m not sure what this question means. All subfields of meteorology are connected to all other parts. It’s silly to put boundaries around what you will try to learn. Having said that, I’ve stayed focused for the most part on the meteorology of severe storms, and on learning what I need to know to be a contributing scientist in that arena. The primary reason for that is because it's what interests me the most. For the most part, I've been my own boss regarding what I do. With that freedom of choice, I've never lost my interest in the subject that brought me into the profession. That said, with time, I'm continuing to see other topics that interest me and I've aimed some of my time in other directions for most of my career. I never wanted to be the sort of scientist whose publications reflect a sort of one-dimensional focus - I'm always stimulated by new ideas and new concepts from other parts of the natural and even the social sciences.
12. What would you say are the biggest controversies and innovations in the field?
What field? In severe storms meteorology? One big controversy is a debate about whether or not storm-relative environmental helicity is a concept of value in predicting storm behavior. Innovations: Doppler radar (especially mobile systems), numerical cloud modeling, scientific storm chasing, polarimetric radar.
13. What ways can I prepare for a job in this field?
14. What are some observations or reflections you have on the field?
Being a scientist is a privilege and has proven to be much more rewarding than I ever dreamed it would be. Science is not about memorizing facts, but about creativity in developing useful understanding of the natural world. Truly one-dimensional “geeks” are not very successful in my science – being creative requires you to get away from the work occasionally and do something completely unrelated for a while, so serious involvement in a hobby that has nothing to do with your work is an important component in developing new insight. Working with others is an important part of being a successful scientist. See also here.
15. What do you think the future holds for this kind of work?
Science is a process that has no conceivable end. We will never have a complete understanding of the natural world, and new insights always lead to new questions to answer. Science is a firm basis for contributing to society; so as long as investment in science continues, society will benefit from that investment. Purely abstract concepts almost inevitably have meaningful applications, so knowledge for its own sake is usually worthy of pursuit, but there is a continuing need for those who can apply that abstract understanding to the natural world. Meteorology is definitely not for everyone, but opportunities to pursue it as a career are usually available for those with the necessary skills and the desire to use their skills to gain physical insight and make contributions to science and society.
16. What people were most influential on you over the course of your career?
I have an extended answer to this question here.
17. How many research projects have you participated in?
See my curriculum vitae. I haven’t kept count.
18. What part do you play in your projects?
My role has always been as a contributing science professional, responsible for the quality of the work.