I am Professor of Atmospheric Science in the School of Environmental Sciences. I came to UEA in 1983 as an undergraduate to do a BSc in Environmental Science and have been here ever since. I have worked my way up, first doing a PhD and then working as a post-doctoral researcher for many years. In 2005 I became an RCUK Fellow, at the end of which I became a Reader and subsequently a Professor. (To visit Claire's staff page, click here).
What inspired you to pursue a career in environmental sciences?
At sixth-form college I took maths, physics and geography A levels. We also had to take classes in other extra-circular subjects. For one term our geography teacher, Mr (Jeremy) Palfrey, ran a course in environmental science. I had never heard of this as a subject before. I suddenly realised that there was a subject that combined maths, physics and geography and I could pursue a science career on a topic that I enjoyed and really cared about. I doubt Mr Palfrey has any idea what a huge influence those lessons had on my future career and life.
I came to UEA in 1983 to do a BSc in Environmental Science, thinking that I would follow a pathway in geophysics. In the first year I was introduced to meteorology and oceanography, which I really enjoyed so ended up taking wet and windy modules in my honours programme. At the time the big environmental issue was acid rain and in 1985 the ozone hole was discovered. Atmospheric chemistry was a relatively new science, but it was exciting times.
In the summer of 1985 I worked as a vacation student for 6 weeks in the Atmospheric Pollution Division of the Warren Spring Laboratory (WSL), which was part of the UK Department of Trade and Industry. This work formed the basis of my 3rd year project which was an investigation into the causes of increased surface ozone concentrations. I knew then that I wanted to pursue a research career in atmospheric pollution and staff at WSL strongly advised me to do a PhD.
In my final UG year, Stuart Penkett started as a new lecturer at UEA. He had a position available to do a PhD in atmospheric chemistry modelling, which involved a year at the University of Oslo. I really enjoyed computer programming and, rather oddly, I had developed an affinity for Norway when I had done a project on that country years earlier at primary school. The project was ideal. I applied, was offered the position and that was the start of my career as an atmospheric scientist.
Who encouraged you along the way? (Who are your role models and heroes?)
My partner, Tracy, has always supported me throughout my career, starting with proof reading and helping me print my thesis by changing over the coloured ink pens in the printer – yes we had a colour printer in those days, but it could only print one colour at a time!
My PhD supervisor, Stuart Penkett, who subsequently took me on as a post-doc and gave me the opportunity to develop a career as a researcher.
I can’t say I have been particularly aware of female role models, but when asked to think, I would say Susan Solomon and Anne Thompson, two US scientists. Both have taken leading roles in developing the field of atmospheric science and were prominent at meetings I have attended throughout my career.
What do you most enjoy about your job?
There are many very different aspects that I really enjoy about my job. They range from the feeling that I am helping to improve the environmental quality of our planet, for example through influencing the international policy on ozone depleting substances (Montreal Protocol), to the almost inexplicable joy of finding a missing comma in some computer code that enables you to get a programme to run.
In between, there is the enjoyment of travelling all over the world for field work and conferences and getting to meet and work with people from many different countries and cultures. Field campaigns can often be hard work and stressful, but they can also be fun and very enjoyable, especially when you have a good team of colleagues. My job is also rewarding when I see students I have taught or supervised securing good jobs, particularly when they also pursue their own research careers.
What do you particularly appreciate or enjoy about working in ENV?
Having pursued my whole academic career from my BSc, through PhD, post-doc, Research Fellow, Reader to Professor, I have a very strong bond to ENV. There is something very special about the School, UEA and Norwich that makes people want to stay, or return. I really like the fact that we have world-leading researchers who are at the forefront of their science, having a major impact on national and international policy and yet the School has a very informal atmosphere, with a laid back attitude and a reputation as being the “welly brigade”.
It is great to be able to work with a large number of colleagues with a shared interest in atmospheric science as well as being able to interact with colleagues who are experts in other completely different environmental science disciplines. I like the fact that we attract so many students and staff from different countries as this really enhances the cultural diversity.
What is the most enjoyable or exciting research project you've worked on and why?
This has to be African Monsoon Multi-disciplinary Analyses (AMMA) project. This was an international project, predominantly funded by the EU. In the summer of 2006 there were around 600 scientists in the field in W. Africa researching all aspects of the monsoon: the meteorology; atmospheric composition; land-surface-atmosphere interactions and impacts on water security and disease.
I was on the international steering committee and led up the work package (WP) on atmospheric chemistry and aerosols involving around 90 scientists. Much of this centred on an aircraft campaign involving five research aircraft based in either Niamey, Niger or Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. The whole project was very challenging, involved lots of meetings, diplomacy, administrative paper work, stress and sleepless nights, but it was hugely rewarding and we got lots of great science and papers out of it.
At one meeting of our WP, a colleague, Paul, pointed out that there were more women around the table than men. I hadn’t noticed this before and it was a far cry from the meetings I had been to as a young post-doc, where, at times, everyone around the table except me was a man in a suit. Our WP became known as the women’s WP, I suppose, because it was still rather unusual. Many of the people involved in our WP were from France and there was a high proportion of women and in relatively senior roles. Unfortunately, I still often find myself in meetings where men dominate, especially at the more senior levels.
What are some of the most memorable moments of your career?
I have had lots of memorable moments associated with field work. For example, being on the flight deck of the UK BAe-146 research aircraft flying at 50ft over the sea and, similarly, flying wing-tip to wing-tip alongside the NASA DC8 research aircraft, both while over the mid-Atlantic, thousands of miles from the continent.
Participating in UNEP/WMO Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion expert review meetings. I really got the sense that I was part of something that was having a major influence on international policy, leading to significant benefits to the climate and human health.