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Name: Kathryn W.
Status: Student
Age: 19
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: N/A 


Question:
I am a student at College of DuPage in the process of completing an introductory earth science course. One of my course requirements is to interview a research scientist in the earth sciences and to produce a biography of that scientist as well as a synopsis of his or her research. I would greatly appreciate your responses to the following questions at your earliest convenience.

1. What was your initial motivation to enter your field of expertise?
2. What academic and/or professional preparation was required to lead to your present position?
3. What do you enjoy the most about your work?
4. What do you enjoy the least about your work?
5. What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
6. Please briefly describe the nature of your scientific research.
7. What impact do you perceive your research has on society?
I am grateful for your willingness to complete this questionnaire.



Replies:
Kathryn,

Here are my answers:

1. What was your initial motivation to enter your field of expertise?

Beginning in elementary school I became fascinated with weather. I would stand at our front screen door and enjoy seeing storms, snow, etc. Over the next several years I learned as much as I could about how weather systems formed and how the Earth's circulation worked. I also made lots of observations of weather events. This led me into knowing, by the time that I was a junior in high school, that meteorology would become my profession.

2. What academic and/or professional preparation was required to lead to your present position?

I obtained a B.S. and a M.S. in meteorology at Penn State, with emphases in micrometeorology and air pollution meteorology. I worked for two summers for an environmental consulting company doing air pollution meteorology and dispersion studies. In graduate school I was a research assistant performing micrometeorological instrument design, deployment, measurements, and data analysis for a large interdisciplinary project. Both of these areas of practical work experience "earned" me my research position after completing graduate school. Any related work experience is a plus when looking for a job after college.

3. What do you enjoy the most about your work?

The variety of work and the challenges are the most enjoyable. There is rarely a dull moment, as they say. I am primarily a problem-solver, which is fun, and very rewarding when the problem is finally solved. Furthermore, I have always enjoyed the observational aspects of my profession; I get to learn new things and build up my knowledge, instead of just using what I learned in school.

4. What do you enjoy the least about your work?

The amount of work can become overwhelming. As you progress in your career, you tend to accumulate responsibilities. If you can't (or won't) shed some of these responsibilities, allowing others to assume them, you will run yourself into the ground. There are some people I know who work 60-80 hours per week who have not learned to let go or who can't because they are workaholics. Certainly their families have suffered for it. Since my family is a higher priority, I have tried to manage my time well.

Another area that can become a bid difficult is the rapid pace of technological change. It is difficult to keep up with all of the changes in techniques and methodologies being used to accomplish the same purpose, never mind trying to keep up with sweeping changes in computer science. You must be flexible and willing to learn knew things, or you will not survive in a scientific discipline.

5. What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

Solving problems and publishing research results on new information that we have learned through our work are very rewarding. For instance, in my last journal article I suggested several chemical reactions that could explain field experiment research results of enhanced production of nitrogen dioxide by lightning, results that we and others have obtained but were unexplained previously; to make a contribution like that is very rewarding.

6. Please briefly describe the nature of your scientific research.

My recent research has focused on the following areas:

The use of specialized micrometeorological and radiological instrumentation in global climate change and hydrological field programs; the programs that I am involved in focus on the role of clouds, water vapor, and carbon dioxide in climate change, and the effects of weather events on the hydrology of a watershed.

Nitrogen oxides production by lightning.

The characteristics of lightning.

The design of lightning protection systems and application to experimental facilities, towers, and munitions storage facilities.

7. What impact do you perceive your research has on society?

Most scientists' contributions tend to have a small impact by themselves. It is the large mass of small steps that accumulate to have a significant effect or benefit.

My most important contributions have been in micrometeorological instrument development, a better understanding of the effects of carbon dioxide and water vapor on climate change, measurements of pollutant deposition that led to the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, and a better understanding of the role of lightning in atmospheric chemistry.

David R. Cook
Atmospheric Research Section
Environmental Research Division
Argonne National Laboratory



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