Careers in Climate

On Wednesday 5th June, Women in Climate hosted Careers in Climate, with funding from the Researcher Led Initiative Awards. We were joined by an exceptional group of speakers for this insightful and motivating day. Over 40 people met to hear a science writer, a journal editor, a teacher, professors, and research institute scientists discuss their careers, with one-to-one sessions enabling attendees to have personal career discussions with the speakers. The event was well-attended by postgraduate and postdoctoral scientists who found the event a positive and insightful consideration of possible options for their future careers.

 

Krasimira Tsaneva-Atanasova – Professor of Mathematics for Healthcare and Associate Dean (International and Development)

As a child Krasi thrived on academic challenges, later realising that inspiring learning in others was also very motivating through teaching English in Bulgarian schools. From there Krasi went to work in industry as a statistician and programmer, before venturing to New Zealand to complete a PhD. Reflecting on this move, “I was not scared. I was determined and grateful for the opportunity.” Krasi then did two post-docs in the US and Paris before finding a permanent position in Bristol as a lecturer. Krasi opened up about how hard this time was, “there was barely enough time for lecturing and I was not researching at all”. After three years things started to improve when Krasi started winning grants, getting students and post-docs. From there Krasi’s career started to blossom and Krasi continued to take on new challenges and opportunities.

Krasi shared with us that it was never the goal to become a ‘Professor’ and personally puts no weight on the title. Krasi felt strongly that in hard times, such as in the first few years of lecturing, you need to take care of yourself first and continue to move forward.

Mark Baldwin – Professor of Mathematics and former Head of Mathematics and Computer Science

“I did not want to be a Professor. I wanted to work in a research lab and in time be the head of a research centre”. Mark took a “non-traditional” path into a professorship, working in industry for a number of years. Mark’s key piece of advice is that you need to nail interviews: “Don’t go into interview blind. Go to training, get informed and be prepared”. And don’t forget that your best papers will get rejected, as you push the boundaries of science!

Peter Stott – Science Fellow in Attribution at the Met Office and Professor in Detection and Attribution at the University of Exeter.   Climate communicator in media

Peter’s advice on finding a career you are passionate about is to: “Have a big ambition, but take small steps”. The challenge in finding the right career then becomes about finding your niche and leaving room to take advantage of surprise opportunities that come along.

Peter studied Maths at Durham and then theoretical physics at Cambridge. Whilst studying theoretical physics Peter realised this was not a good fit and the desire for a more practical job developed. Peter went on to be a computer programmer but also felt this was not a good fit. Peter then completed a PhD which included research on atmospheric dispersion following the nuclear accident at Chernobyl. He continued working in atmospheric science, taking up a post-doc in Edinburgh on ozone depletion, but Peter still had not found his perfect niche.

When the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report came out this sparked a new interest in weather and climate. That was the point when a Met Office graduate position opportunity came up – “This was the niche I was looking for”. An early career highlight was being invited to Japan as an expert scientist during the Kyoto Protocol signing.

Later Peter realised an ambition to develop public communication skills and do media engagements. Peter is now a regular point of contact between the Met Office and the media, and in the last year has featured on a David Attenborough documentary and co-led the ‘Climate Stories’ project blending art and science together to improve climate communication.

“Media training and coaching is essential. There is a real need to get a broader diversity of scientists involved in media engagement. Start small, just go out and do it. Get support and encouragement”.

There is no ‘typical’ day, as days change and evolve over time, and Peter regularly switches from research to user engagement (government, public and policy makers).

Robert McSweeney – Science Editor at Carbon Brief, climate journalist

Robert did an Engineering Masters at Warwick and a Science Masters in Climate Change at UEA. After this, Robert went to work as an environmental scientist in the large engineering consultancy firm ‘Atkins’ for eight years and five years ago joined the website Carbon Brief.

Reflecting on working as an environmental scientist: “The pros of the job include the wide variety of work and training. The cons included having to fill in time sheets and the corporate focus as you might not be working directly on climate related projects”.

At Carbon Brief: “The pros of the job are that it is fast paced, creative and has clear impact. The cons are that deadlines are tight and you can get a little down when you are reporting so often on the negative impacts humans are having on the climate.”

A typical day at Carbon Brief involves a morning briefing and an editorial meeting. This is followed by writing or editing deadline pieces followed by a mix of short and long term projects.

Robert summarised with the following advice:

  1. Don’t fret about past decisions
  2. You don’t have to do the same thing forever
  3. Get work/volunteering experience
  4. Think about your personality and make choices that suit you.

Tamara Janes – Manager of Climate Information for International Development, Met Office

Through high school and university Tammy was strong in Maths and Physics, choosing to do an undergraduate in Astrophysics and a masters in Atmospheric Science, both in Canada. Tammy then set her sights on the Met Office with the goal of working in the UK.

Tammy provided a great perspective on their career path, reflecting on the dreaded interview question: “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”. Tammy observed that as an undergraduate in 2005, the goal for 2010 was to be doing a PhD in Astrophysics. But in 2010 Tammy was doing a PhD in Earth and Atmospheric science instead. In 2010 the goal was to work for Environment Canada doing weather forecasting by 2015. Instead Tammy was working in core science at the Met Office and planned to working in similar role in 2020. Now in 2019 Tammy is working as an applied scientist travelling all around the world.

Tammy’s key point is that it is good to have a direction and set goals but realise that what you want from life, take the opportunities you have and change your goals on a regular basis.

Graham Simpkins – Editor at Nature Reviews Earth & Environment

Graham did a Bachelor degree in Physical Geography at Sheffield, a Masters in Climate Change at UEA, and a PhD in Climate Science at UNSW Australia. During this time Graham’s primary career goal was to be a lecturer.

Graham shared with us that he really struggled about half way through the PhD process and considered quitting; the honesty around the difficulties faced was really appreciated. Graham made some big life changes and the final year of the PhD was one of the best years of his life. Graham then went on to do a post-doc in the US, but during the PhD and post-doc Graham had started re-evaluating the lecturer goal and realised this was not the right path. “I felt there was an expectation that I would do a post-doc. Doing a post-doc was not for me but doing one helped me to realise that I did not want that life. There are so many other options, so don’t feel you have to do a post-doc.”

Graham liked talking to people about their own research but no longer enjoyed doing the research directly. When an editor job came up at Nature Communications, Graham applied, never realising beforehand that this was a job possibility! Graham loves his new career. In roles within Nature Communications, Nature Climate Change and Nature Reviews Earth and Environment, Graham’s jobs have included: reading a lot of manuscripts, working with authors to improve their papers and commissioning new pieces. Graham attends conferences and goes on lab visits to see trends in research focus and the latest developments. “At Nature we are not experts in all areas, we assess if papers are novel and if there is a breath of interest to our readers.”

Angus Ferraro – Physics High School teacher

Angus did a PhD in Atmosphere, Oceans and Climate at the University of Reading and post-doc at the University of Exeter. During the post-doc, Angus really enjoyed the intellectual challenge and the freedom to manage your own schedule. The catalyst for the change to teaching came about after a rejected NERC fellowship. “It was not the rejection itself, just that I became aware how much I would need to do in order to get a fellowship and the timeline was not compatible with my personal life”.

From there Angus decided to teach Physics at High School. “I wanted to be a teacher before anything else. Because I really enjoyed teaching people”.

“The job can be stressful due to the pace of the day and amount of work you need to do on each day.” A standard day starts at 8am to review the days lessons, before the day of teaching. There is then two hours of tasks to do at the end of the day, which includes marking and teaching preparation.”

Angus feels the job can offer a good work-life balance but this has to be self-regulated. Your work-life balance depends on the school you’re in and there are a lot of overworked and stressed teachers in the UK. One of the biggest challenges is the level of under-funding which makes it much harder to do your job as you don’t have the resources you need. The second biggest challenge is the accountability process which can make you feel like you are not a professional if you are being micro-managed by your school.

If you’re wondering if teaching is for you, then go to a school and get some work experience and see if it is for you. Use the English governments “Get into Teaching” initiative to find a school or email the school reception to get put in contact with the Head of Science. It can happen that people commit to teaching and realise that half way through their training that they don’t like kids. So work out if this is what you want to commit your time to.

Don’t believe all the negative things said about teaching. “Nearly all of my days are spent teaching Physics which I really enjoy. I spend 99% of my time in the company of really fun people leaning about really interesting stuff and it’s great.”

Training paths for High School teaching:

1. University path:

Post-Graduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) is a one year course with in general is 1 day at University and four days a week at a placement school where Angus taught 10 hours a week. Angus did this option as it was the least intensive option and allowed him to study the science of leaning and develop more core skills as a teacher. Due to skills shortages in this area there are bursaries you can apply for while you teach which is more than enough to live on (amount depends on the subject, with subjects like Physics currently having large bursaries attached).

2. School path:

In this option you are paid an unqualified teachers salary. In this option you teach a lot more and in a way you are thrown in the deep end. For natural teachers this might suit you better.

  1. School Direct is a programme run by consortiums of schools locally.
  2. Teach First is a national program designed for top graduates and for teaching in more deprived areas.
  3. Researchers in Schools is a mix of all the above for PhD graduates. There is lots of teaching but also time for researching (education focused) and training, and the programme is designed to increase the number of state school pupils applying to top universities, especially from under-privileged areas.

Mailing list for climate related jobs in the UK and abroad

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