Graduated with PhD in Physics in 2002
Job title: MACC Consultant Analyst
Industry: Weather forecasting and climate monitoring
On graduating from my PhD I joined the Met Office as part of their graduate recruitment process, despite having no knowledge of meteorology beyond my general physics degree. The programming skills I learnt in my PhD however (FORTRAN on a Unix platform) were useful to them. I worked there for about five years, receiving some training on meteorology, before moving on to the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting (ECMWF), which is where I still work as part of the MACC (Monitoring Atmospheric and Climate Composition) project.
What do you do on an average day?
My work is mainly writing, maintaining and upgrading programs to compare our forecasts of atmospheric composition (e.g. ozone, dust, pollution, green-house gases) with observations so that the model developers can see if they are making progress. This mostly involves coding in IDL (similar to Matlab), C++ and FORTRAN, and also Unix scripting. As well as programming I have to create and maintain databases of forecast and observational data. I've found that creating software which is useful to other people in our project is a very rewarding task, and I especially take pride in making them very user-friendly, which distinguishes them from a lot of the other software we have to deal with.
What did you learn from your physics degree that has helped you in your career?
Essentially just the basic laws of physics with regards to gases and fluid motion (physics of condensation and evaporation, ideal gases, etc.), plus the programming skills I got from my PhD.
What three things do you wish you'd known before graduating?
- That taking every opportunity to learn something new in and around your subject will serve you very well, if not now, then over time. If presented with an opportunity to learn something, don't squander it because it may not come along again.
- (Before graduating from my undergraduate degree) that I really enjoy scientific programming and find it very rewarding. That's something I didn't realise until I actually did it.
- Perhaps that tangible specialist skills (e.g. programming, or maybe skill with electronics or the like) seem to be the key to jobs in science.