I am a senior researcher in the School of Environmental Sciences (To link to Clare's Staff Page, click here). I have worked in the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) since 1982 and currently have an ‘indefinite' contract. 70% of my funding comes from research projects with the remaining 30% provided by ENV to support my role as CRU Research and Administration Manager.
What inspired you to pursue a career in environmental sciences?
My childhood interest in nature grew into a deeper concern about the state of the environment and the world. UEA was the obvious, and really the only, choice for me in 1976 to study environmental sciences as perhaps a rather idealistic student. This was in the relatively early days of ENV and I was inspired and privileged to be taught by people such as Tim O'Riordan and to have Peter Brimblecombe as my undergraduate advisor.
Who encouraged you along the way? (Who are your role models and heroes?)
It was through chance and a close friend that I landed a very temporary job in the CRU in 1982 – initially hourly paid – copying out by hand historical weather records from various archives and digitising them. This was the early days of CRU and the emergence of climate change science and we were all learning as we went.
It was a very stimulating environment with people from different disciplines (physics, geography, geology, hydrology etc) learning how to apply these varied perspectives to the study of climate change. I was somewhat in awe of Hubert Lamb, the founding director of CRU, who was still around in my early days – but full of respect.
I was also very lucky to work with leading figures in climatology – in particular Phil Jones, Jean Palutikof, Mick Kelly and Keith Briffa – and was particularly encouraged and inspired by Jean. She set the seeds for many of my current research interests.
What do you most enjoy about your job?
I've really enjoyed the way in which my job has constantly evolved and developed since I started out in 1982 – reflecting changes in both the science and the broader political and social background. It is absolutely full of variety and it is always exciting, and sometimes challenging, getting to know each new project consortium.
Over the last 30 years my work has moved closer and closer to the ‘real world' in terms of providing information that is relevant to decision and policy making. It has also become increasingly multi- and inter-disciplinary – which is both stimulating and challenging. These days my role is more in knowledge transfer than in ‘playing with numbers'. Although I miss the latter at times, I appreciate the opportunity to forge new linkages and understanding.
What do you particularly appreciate or enjoy about working in ENV?
I really enjoy being based in the relatively small and close-knit CRU community – both in terms of the research and social environment. Whilst I probably don't take full advantage of it, I appreciate the wider support and scientific authority that comes from being a member of the multi-disciplinary ENV community.
I also appreciate the opportunities and freedom that ENV offers with respect to research and flexibility of working – and the trust that the latter implies. Though this often comes at the cost of weekend and evening working!
What is the most enjoyable or exciting research project you've worked on and why?
With so many to choose from, this is quite difficult, but I would have to say the ENSEMBLES European project which ran from 2004 to 2009 because it gave me my first opportunity to carve out and create my own role. It was also the most frustrating at times because it was so large – involving more than 60 partners from different disciplines. But this really helped to develop my inter-disciplinary perspective – particularly with respect to the impacts of climate change and prediction on different timescales.
Looking back, it is clear that ENSEMBLES has played a major role in setting the international scientific agenda – and it is also very satisfying to see how many of the early career scientists have gone from strength to strength since ENSEMBLES finished. I also have good memories of the female get-togethers during the annual project meetings – which seemed to scare some of our male colleagues!
What advice would you give someone thinking about a career in science?
In some ways I am probably not a good person to answer this question because I was torn at school in whether to go down the science or arts route – reflected in my choice of A levels: English, Geography and Biology. As an undergraduate in ENV I avoided those course units requiring strong physics and mathematical skills. Today, I somewhat regret that I don't have a stronger background in these core subjects and so my advice would be to ensure a good grounding in basic science, maths and statistics.
At the same time, even if pursuing a single scientific discipline, I think it is important for all scientists to be aware of the wider inter-disciplinary world and to develop good communication skills.
On a more personal level – be prepared to take risks and jump at new opportunities. Don't be afraid to network and to promote yourself. As a female scientist – make good use of women's networks and be prepared to repeat yourself in meetings in order to get yourself heard! Above all – never stop learning.