Want to storm chase from your desk? Read my paper!

I am very excited to announce that I recently had a publication accepted into the Journal of Geophysical Research – Atmospheres! In my paper, I discuss how individual clouds “clusters” evolve (grow, mature, and decay) over their lifetimes on global scales, thanks to long records of next-generation geostationary satellites. I found that cloud maturity was a longer, more delayed process in longer lasting storms. Over land, there tended to be a single daily maximum in clouds and storm development in the afternoon. In contrast, over the ocean, there are two peaks: one in the afternoon and also one in the early morning. Early morning clouds tended to last longer (> 6 hours) than those in the afternoon. My paper provide a big picture survey of the lifecycle evolution of cloud characteristics as seen from infrared satellites, which can complement climate model simulations and enhance satellite retrieval algorithms.

The paper is online now on JGR’s website, although it’s behind a paywall until 2017. Email me if you want a copy… or read the “comic book” edition below with a surprise morbid ending.

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Comic edition – with surprise morbid ending.
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Women in Science

I had an opportunity to have lunch with the speaker of the distinguished female faculty lecture with several other graduate students on the topic of women in science. Below were some of the interesting discussion points that our speaker shared with the group:

  • Finding your voice as a female graduate student. A student shared that she received some well intended advice that she needed to speak more confidently during presentations – however, she actually felt quite confident speaking so it came across as “stop talking like a woman and talk more like a man.” The speaker shared that being professional doesn’t mean you need to speak and act in a traditionally masculine way. It’s hard to say what is truly related to confidence and what expectations are result from implicit bias. It’s important to point out this isn’t a “male” or “female” issue – anyone who appears to lack “masculinity” in their speaking style can be perceived as “less effective.” In short, to continue to hone your presentation skills and style, but success does not require that you “talk like a man.”
  • Being comfortable in your own skin. Continuing from the last point, the idea of being a professional woman doesn’t mean you have to dress and act like a man. It’s important to be comfortable in your own skin and pick an environment that allows you to do so.
  • Bringing up the topic of work-life balance. Work life balance is of particular importance to males and females who are interested in starting a family when picking their research or post-doc advisor. How to you bring such a topic up? Rather than talking directly about the issue (e.g. nobody really should ask if you’re trying to have a kid at a job interview), rather one can bring up the issues of family time or by asking other members of the group about their experiences or others with people around them.
  • Reporting sexual harassment. There has been a lot of press on this topic lately. It’s also important to identify a male or female faculty member to whom you can discuss such an issue if it were to arise. However, it might be too intimidating to talk to a faculty member, so establishing a peer-to-peer support network at your university could be another avenue. This allows students who want to bring up issues to have a safe place to discuss what happened and learn about their resources.
  • Being interdisciplinary in practice, not just in name. Some universities have coursework where students from different disciplines are placed in a group to find solutions to problems, often yielding some fascinating research that has led to publications!

If these issues interest you, I highly recommend Women in Science: Meeting Career Challenges , a collection of essays edited by by Angela M. Pattatucci.

Conference Report: AGU2015

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Best of AGU! From 12 o’clock, clockwise: Coffee break in Moscone West, the best thing in the AGU giftshop this year, Presidential Union w/Elon Musk, Star Wars mania in the exhibitors hall/Moscone North, Chinatown, the poster hall in Moscone South, sunrise from the Hilton,  the Embarcadero.

I just returned from the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting in San Francisco, CA. With over 1,700 abstracts and 20,000 attendees, it’s quite the nerd fest. AGU also hosts a slew of workshops and networking opportunities and a student conference before the main festivities began, some of which I’d like to talk about my favorite ones here.

Monday afternoon was my poster presentation, so I got up early, registered and put my poster up. Being close to Chinatown, I filled my stomach with tasty Dim Sum and returned to attend the GPM-related sessions. For my poster, I was participating in the Outstanding Student Paper Award (OSPA) because who doesn’t like a little competition (and cash and glory). You never know who your judge is but it’s always fun to guess (one person was playing the “stump the student” game and asked me a ton of questions). While talks are often perceived as more prestigious, I actually prefer presenting posters at larger conferences. You get more exposure to random scientists and I like being able to interact with people one on one. However, I love the adrenaline of giving a talk to a packed room too.

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On Tuesday, I attended the student breakfast, which is an excellent opportunity to meet other students and get life advice from senior scientists (and fuel up for a long day!). The Presidential Union featured Elon Musk of Tesla Motors and Space X. The line was loooooooooong, with people queuing over an hour before. The format was interview style; AGU president Margaret Leinen first asked questions and then opened the floor to the audience. Elon Musk was more soft-spoken than I expected but he was also full of witty one-liners (sketchnoted wonderful by Sarah Dewitt).

I also attended a “writing science in plain english” workshop as part of AGU’s Sharing Science series. The panel emphasized the importance of using simple words instead of jargon terms, and how its smarter science to write clearly rather than using big words to sound smart. The second speaker described how, even in science, you have to write a compelling story, and build it in a way that keeps your reader hooked. The last panelist gave tips on producing visuals for your science, which can be made using tools as simple as power point. A picture says 1000 words! It was a long day, but I dragged myself back out at 7p to the Early Career Female Networking Workshops. I overdosed on tasty brownies and got to meet a mid-career scientists working for a non-profit. As grad students, we’re told “academia or bust!” so I do not know much about other options. It was amazing how many different projects she worked on. I also ran into a PhD student who not only went to my high school, but also my Alma Mater! Small world.

I didn’t make it to the fun run this year, but I recommend it. In past years I’ve made a few contacts with outdoorsy scientists (anyone else notice how many geologists are also marathoners?). It’s a very beautiful early morning run along the Embarcadero (docks/shoreline) which gets you heart pumping without the need of coffee. Instead, I did some morning sight seeing in golden gate park and returned to peruse the poster hall. Try to go twice a day, once in the morning and again in the afternoon, so that you can talk to the presenting authors. It’s also great way to run into old friends and colleagues. At the AGU booth in the exhibit hall there was a “sketch you science” project, where you tried to convey your research in picture form (and tape it to the wall, to fully relive your childhood). It was fun to think of my work in a more creative way.

I attended the Authors Workshop on Thursday, which had presentations from AGU journal editors and representatives from Wiley. They shared some good tips on the publication process (to cover letter or not cover letter? the importance of communicating with the editor, how to REALLY write your abstract. Who should be considered an author and what are their roles?). I learned the important of using keywords and social media to promote your paper — most papers are discovered through internet searches, so it’s important to link to your work. This was one of my favorite workshops of the conference. The premier of Star Wars: The Force Awakens was today, so fever gripped the city. There was even a guest appearance by R2D2!

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All in all, this was a great AGU. I spent more time at workshops, early-career training, and town halls than I did in the past. I talked to people about job opportunities and postdocs. Since I was a student volunteer for this meeting, it was cool to contribute to this big event. I also got to meet a lot of the AGU staff and scientists who worked hard to make the conference happen. Some complain that AGU is perhaps too big and too interdisciplinary, but I think that’s what makes it unique and special. I attend smaller conferences to interact only with my small subfield; AGU fills a niche in earth sciences for getting feedback from a variety of people.

To Hack or not to Hack

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On Nov. 4, I attended Technica’s all-female hackathon. All in all, it was a very cool experience. They had a lot of great tutorials lined up, and I geeked out over arduino baords. There was a python challenge and one of my fellow graduate students got third place. Someone else in my group picked a lock. We are an elite bunch.

It was my first hackathon and I didn’t want to “screw it up.” I had read online that one should have a plan for the weekend. So I met with my group and made this project to pull data from weatherstations from the department roof and make some nice visualizations. This was all great except… we couldn’t continuously log data logger without a permanent PC and it’s not like we had extra one laying around. The other problem was it was homecoming weekend so there were football games and festivities that distracted people from the mission. People showed up late, left early, or not at all. So, we got absolutely nothing done related to our “hack.”

12196342_10102674791303659_3296974766887772164_nI was kind of disappointed, but I think all that advice I read on the internet was more geared towards competitive teams. Since it was my first hackathon, I really just enjoyed the classes, games, and learning atmosphere. I got to meet other like minded people and took a selfie with testudo. I tried to convince a drunk undergrad who stumbled into the event to change his evil ways (he walked over to a recruiters booth and was handed a flier on internships, before he was escorted out for trespassing). So, contrary to everything else I read online, I recommend for first-time “hackers,” just sit back and enjoy in an unstructured way. There really was a lot going on and  it was a great weekend to just explore new things.

Lately, I have been in despair after overhearing so many undergrads saying “they hate school” and bragging about skipping class. It’s easy to dismissively say they are “unmotivated students.” I think this culture of perfection and micromanagement is just paying its toll. Standardized testing discourages young people to create and explore. Hopefully, events like this will make the things that students learn in class more real and interesting.

Fun in the Field

 

cropped-img_0215.jpgIn September, I participated in a field campaign for the SMAP (soil moisture active passive) satellite in Yanco, Australia. My team and I sampled the soil moisture every 250m across farmlands to validate both the satellite measurements as well as sensors on board an aircraft. Farmlands were picked because measurements were notoriously bad and they are important for society. The location was also selected because there are long term ground observations, which can supplement the measurements taken on land, air, and space.

We used a GETAC system to find the points via GPS and log the measured values. The GETAC was connected to a long pole, at the base of which was a soil moisture probe. The probe has several prongs, which send an electrical signal through the soil; the resistance is used to determine water content. The analytical term for  determining soil moisture is referred to as gravimetrics. The probe also collected soil temperature and soil salinity. We took measurements three times at each point to try to get a representative sample. It’s amazing how much variability there is just a few inches apart.

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Chillin’ with my GETAC

Of my 14 days days in Yanco, about half were spent taking soil moisture measurements. On the other days, we did intensive vegetation sampling. We would pick a square meter of space and harvest all the plants. These were carefully weighed, dried for two days in an oven, and then weighed again. The difference was used to measure the water content. A “representative specimen” was selected, and the stalk length, thickness, as well as the leaf count, thickness, length, and angle were measured. We also noted the overall characteristics of the field, such as row orientation and irrigation. This information could be used to improve model parameters or to find what types of crops introduce errors to soil moisture estimates.

 

As someone who spends most of their time sciencing indoors, it was really cool to see where my data comes from. It’s an enormous effort to organize these projects, and things didn’t always go as planned. Some teams had equipment break or parts were missing and we had to improvise with lots of rubber bands. We got a very good laugh at one of the ground stations, which was overgrown with vegetation while being surrounded by a completely mowed field. You better believe there is bias on those measurements!

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This measurement might be a little biased…

Lastly, this was hard work! According to my fitness tracker, I walked approximately 6-10 miles over some rough terrain. Mornings were pretty chilly and the the dew that collected on the wheat in the morning made its way into my boots and walking became squishy. It was quite empowering to be alone working around for hours. My team and I got to know each other really well, and we helped each other to get the job done. I also became protective of my equipment, wanting to keep it clean and the prongs straight (my precious!!!).

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We also had fun too. I saw kangaroos hop by. There was little light pollution, which made for amazing stargazing. There was a koala preserve nearby which I visited twice and a local derigidoo artisan who asked if I wanted to sample wiggly grubs (no thanks!). Driving on the left side of the road turned a mundane task into a thrill. It was an amazing experience that I think all scientists should do at least once!