Friday, September 20, 2013

There’s no such thing as a climate scientist

     Here in Australia, the new Coalition government, which won office on a head-in-the-sand approach to climate change, is busy dismantling all of the federal early warning and advisory bodies on climate.  There are snide gloating remarks floating around the internet to the effect that the climate scientists have been exposed, and that the conservatives need to cut the dole before these fake scientists can get any more government money. However, these ungracious comments also suffer from factual deficits.  There are no climate scientists; there are only earth scientists who study climate.
     A person who understands the physical and chemical tools that allow us to understand the Earth system can apply those tools to whatever knowledge suits their fancy.  I know el Niño experts who started out on gold mines, and frakkers who stared out studying el Niño.  I know isotope specialists and paleontologists who have applied their skills to both ocean heat uptake and oil & gas exploration.  Even Tim Flannery, the recently sacked chief of the climate commission, had a career in vertebrate paleontology. 
       So you don’t need to worry- or gloat- that the end of climate funding will mean these climate scientists will have nowhere else to go.  Sure, they will be disruptions, but the same skills that make them good at climate will let them pursue other Earth Science goals, or other careers that value the ability to constrain complex systems with limited and unusual data.  Many of these folks may even stay in climate, generating predictions that inform insurance companies who to raise rates on, or hedge funds who to divest out of.

    So the recent shuttering of government climate organizations will not mean the end of climate scientists, or even of climate science.  It simply means that Australians as a whole will no longer be the beneficiaries of their immense talents.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

You had me at “citation”

I recently attended the 2013 Goldschmidt conference in Florence Italy.  This is the largest geochemistry conference in the world.  It migrates between Europe and North America every year, with occasional forays into the Asia-Pacific region.  It is a big conference, with attendance in the mid thousands.
Unlike workshops, symposia, and little topical conferences, big conferences serve more as social and professional networking events than scientific problem solving sessions.
Senior scientists present the direction of their big projects.
Grad students show what they are capable of.
Junior scientists make sure they get widely known enough to pass their tenure review.
For young scientists looking for their next career move, it is important to meet people in their field.  Having been asked for advice on this topic, I thought I’d present the basics:

It is important to match those names that block out half a page of your thesis references with a face. These people will probably evaluate your proposals, work with you or your colleagues, and review your papers. 

The best way to do this is just to introduce yourself.

Try not to be nervous.  Or at least strive to be nervous gracefully.  And if you are nervous, don’t cover it up by trying too hard to show how smart you are.

The basic point is that if you see the name of a paper you like on a nametag, say hello.  Let the person know you liked their work.  There are very few scientists who don’t like being told that their research is interesting and useful.  Tell them you’re basing your work on theirs, and you’ll have them at “citation”