Thursday, July 10, 2014

Water Jobs: Climatologist Outlook

On this edition of Water Jobs, we welcome Molly Woloszyn, an Extension Climatologist for the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and the Midwestern Regional Climate Center, a part of the Illinois State Water Survey. Molly is a Champaign, IL native and began her current position in 2011 after completing a degree in meteorology at Northern Illinois University and her master's in Atmospheric Sciences at Colorado State University. Along the way, Molly worked as an adjunct faculty member in Earth Science at community colleges in Stillwater, OK and Rockford, IL. When not taking time out to talk to Illinois Water about her exciting job, Molly likes to relax with her husband Ben, their daughter Annie, and their baby-on-the-way.

Would you please tell us what an Extension Climatologist does?

As an Extension Climatologist, my job is to communicate climate and climate-related topics to diverse audiences ranging from scientists to community officials to the public. Not only do I do this through presentations to various groups (teachers, Extension, municipal staff, etc.), but also through workshops, social media, online publications and reports, educational materials, and the media. In my job, I also work with communities on climate adaptation, which means preparing for climate extremes and/or the potential impacts of climate change. 

What does your average day look like?

It typically starts with (as any person would probably say) going through my work email and responding to things that need a response. Then, it really depends on the day! Usually, I have a couple of meetings throughout the week, some conference calls, webinars, etc. Besides that, I work on various projects or things that need to be done. Just to give more concrete examples, these last few weeks my main work tasks have been: writing the MRCC’s weekly and monthly Climate Watch reports for June, developing materials for a booth at an upcoming Extension conference in Alabama, launching the June 2014 edition of the Great Lakes Climate Quarterly Report, writing a Survey Report for the MRCC’s Vegetation Impact Program, and working with my summer intern on a K-12 education page and various components of a NOAA funded project to reduce the flooding vulnerability of critical facilities in Chicago, IL.  And, of course, now answering questions for this Water Jobs blog post!

Since you have a joint appointment with Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and the Illinois State Water Survey, would you explain how a joint appointment works and some of the opportunities it affords you?

In my joint appointment, much of my work overlaps for both programs. Meaning, what I do during the day doesn’t need to be counted as either “IISG” or “MRCC,” which I feel very fortunate about (I have great bosses J). I think what opportunities this joint position affords me is variety – whether it is about the type of work I am able to do, or the different people I get to work with day-to-day. 

What is your favorite part about your job?

There are many things, but if I have to pick, I would say that I feel very fortunate that I get to work in a field that I have been passionate about since I was young. I have always loved the weather, and it took me a while to determine that what I love most about the weather is actually thinking about it in the long-term, or climatology. Many people with meteorology degrees either forecast, research, and/or become a professor. While I think I would have been happy in any meteorology career, I knew I did not want to do research 100% of the time (programming is not my thing!), and I also determined during graduate school that I did not want to get a PhD at this point in my life. Therefore, it took a little time and soul (job) searching, but I feel very fortunate to have found my niche in climatology as well as outreach.

What parts do you try to sneak off on someone else (or can you not share your secrets)?

In all honestly, I am typically the one to volunteer to take things on around the office.  However, this summer, I have really enjoyed having a summer intern to assist me with some projects! He has done a fantastic job, and it’s nice to be more productive without actually doing all of the work. What he has been working on the most is helping with the Chicago Flood Vulnerability project. In particular, he’s been recording city flooding metric data (e.g. combined sewer overflow reports, lake reversal reports, and basement flooding reports) to link these impacts to historical precipitation events in Cook County, with an end goal to assess vulnerable areas in the county to flooding.  

How did you become interested in meteorology?

My dad has been a pilot for 30+ years, so he has to have a certain level of meteorology knowledge for the job. When I was younger, I was particularly afraid of thunderstorms and tornadoes. What I think initially got me interested in meteorology is that my dad would talk with me about the weather since I was so scared – hoping to calm my fears. I think this peaked my interest in all things weather, and I knew this was a career I might want to pursue. I was also fortunate to have a class in high school where I actually job shadowed the service climatologist at the Midwestern Regional Climate Center (where I work today!), which confirmed my desire to pursue this career in college. I still have my first clouds book (I think from my dad) sitting on my desk at work.

How often do people ask you if you are the weather person on local TV channels?

This question makes me laugh, because there is no doubt the #1 question I get when I tell people I majored in meteorology is: “are you on TV?!” or “do you want to be on TV one day!?” Of course my answer to these is now “no.” However, that wasn’t always the case. I initially thought I wanted a career in broadcast meteorology in college. After working with the college TV station and realizing I did not want the schedule of a broadcast meteorologist (either early mornings or late nights), I changed my focus and decided to attend graduate school.

What are some of the communication challenges you face when doing outreach?

I would say accurately and effectively communicating climate change, which of course is specific to my particular outreach position. There are extreme views on both sides of the climate change topic, so helping people understand what is actually going on in an accurate, scientific mindset is sometimes challenging.

What do you hope the outcome of your work will achieve?

I hope people have a better understanding of climate science and climate change, as well as communities becoming more resilient to climate extremes like flooding or heat waves. There is still a lot more work to do in these areas, but hopefully I will have at least a few more years to achieve this work!

What has been your best adventure thus far in your career?

While this might seem cliché, I would say my current job as an Extension Climatologist has been a great adventure! This was a new position for both programs when I first started, so I feel like I had the challenge of building the position from the ground up. I have had to learn many new things, and it has definitely challenged me along the way, but I have loved it and feel fortunate to be where I am today.

You spent several years teaching, both in graduate school and at community colleges. What kinds of advice did you share with your students about making career choices and being successful in school?

I always try to tell students (whether it was students I taught or our interns) to keep an open mind and try many different things in the field, because you never know what you will like. Sometimes it is hard in meteorology to realize that there are careers outside of forecasting or TV, but if they take opportunities with different internships, attending career days, or keeping an open mind when talking with others already in the field, they will discover there is so much more. It sounds like I am anti-forecasting and TV, but of course I’m not. I think those are fantastic careers and are very important! But, I always want to help those students that maybe don’t feel like they “fit” into either of those paths, which was definitely the case for me.