Erin Dawkins

Erin Dawkins- Work Experience Diary

Monday 13th December 2010

My route into meteorology and climatology is certainly pretty unusual. My background is in biology and halfway through a four-year undergraduate Masters, I became fascinated by the climate and chose to focus on how past climate change – particularly transitions between global greenhouse and ‘ice-house’ conditions – affected past animal life.

I have since completed a Masters in Applied Meteorology and Climatology at the University of Birmingham in order to gain an official qualification in the field. Whilst it has been an incredibly steep learning curve switching disciplines from biology to meteorology/climatology, I have loved every minute of it and will be starting a PhD in atmospheric science in January 2011 at the University of Leeds. Between finishing my MSc and starting my PhD, I have been trying to gain relevant work experience and have spent the last three-and-a-half months within the Space Science Department at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in order to learn more about the use of satellites for remote sensing of the atmosphere as well as to improve my scientific computer programming skills.

Which brings me to my present placement at the Royal Meteorological Society. I have been a student member of the Royal Meteorological Society for over a year now, and have attended (and greatly enjoyed) many of the scientific meetings organised by the Society. I think the Society plays an important role both as a professional body supporting the scientific community, as well as providing a crucial interface between this and other members of the public. As a way of gaining a greater insight into the role of the Royal Meteorological Society, I speculatively emailed Rachael Fordham – who is the Public Engagement Programme Manager – about the possibility of spending some time volunteering here, and was delighted to be offered a placement.

After a two hour journey in to Reading, I arrived at the Royal Meteorological Society, which – to my surprise – is only a couple of minutes walk from the main shopping centre (very handy for lunchtime Christmas shopping!), with the grand Georgian building admittedly looking quite out-of-place in amongst the neighbouring office blocks and numerous local shops. Upon entering, I am greeted by Dr Liz Bentley (Head of the Weather club) and Rachael Fordham, and introduced to my fellow work placement student, Archie who is currently at school and will be starting his AS-levels next year (I wish I had been that organised at 15!). The building itself has a very homely feel and it is evident that it used to be a large house. As I am led upstairs to the conference room, enigmatic black and white portraits of the current and former Presidents and Vice-Presidents of the Royal Meteorological Society line the walls. Elsewhere, old meteorological instruments carefully rest on ledges or are attached to the walls. Inside the conference room, there is a massive framed original of the meteorological conditions on D-Day depicting a pattern of high and low pressure areas, the development of which would prove crucial in the timing and success of the operation to invade mainland Europe in summer 1944, which I found fascinating.

After introductions and a guided tour of the building, the first task of the day is to examine the weather chart. We identified the regions of high and low pressure and examined how these developed and changed throughout the week, particularly focussing on the weather situation on Thursday, in which the charts indicate that an area of deep high pressure centres over Iceland forcing high southerly winds over the UK, bringing with them the likelihood of snow.

Whereas the Royal Meteorological Society is a learned and professional society largely aimed at people currently working in the field, Liz and Rachael have recently launched theWeather Club which is aimed at anyone who has a keen interest in weather and climate. The Independent recently featured theWeather Club membership in their top 50 Christmas gift ideas guide for men (no. 20 to be exact) and the applications for membership have shot up! As a result, Rachael - who co-ordinates the membership - has been extremely busy preparing and sending off all the requested membership packs in time for Christmas Day. Archie and I got stuck in too, helping to assemble boxes, checking and carefully packing the Galileo thermometer (which is included in the membership pack) and making sure everything was present and correct to avoid disappointment on Christmas Day. It also gave us the opportunity to quiz Rachael further on the running of the Society, the present successes of theWeather Club amongst many other things.

After lunch (and the start of my epic three-day lunchtime present buying binge, making a break from my usual last-minute tradition), Liz – who in addition to numerous other posts, has previously been the Chief Instructor at the UK Met Office Training College and has headed up the BBC Weather Centre – discussed her main role as media spokesperson for the Society, frequently appearing on radio and TV to talk about current issues related to the weather and climate.

Liz has a regular weather column in The Independent’s recently launched new newspaper, ‘i’ - a more concise version of the parent newspaper - in which she discusses topical weather and climate related issues. Archie and I had a look through previous editions before brainstorming content ideas for future editions. In addition, we were started work on possible ideas for articles which would be put up on the MetLink education website (www.metlink.org).

With the close of the Cancún climate summit on Saturday 11th, I was very keen to write a brief article outlining the context and outcome of the talks as it was highly topical, so I started collating information on the discussions for much of the remainder of the day.

Tuesday 14th December 2010

We kicked off the day by having another look at the weather charts and satellite imagery with Liz, to see if the forecast had changed in any way for this week. Whilst there was slight variation between the placement of the highs and lows between the UK Met Office and American GFS models, they both corroborated very well lending support to the likelihood of the predictions.

Until lunch time, we continued work on researching possible ideas for the ‘i’ column and our articles. Unfortunately, the Society was having a great deal of trouble with their internet connection and BT was working to fix the service as apparently the whole area had been affected. The phone lines to the Society were affected too, which probably couldn’t have come at a worse time with the high demand for people ringing up to buy theWeather Club membership packs as gifts, on top of all the Society’s general day-to-day goings on.

After lunch, we spoke to Georgina Lea whose is involved in publishing the Society’s main journals – including the International Journal of Climatology, Atmospheric Science Letters, Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, and Weather magazine – many of which I have previously accessed and referenced papers from throughout my MSc year.

Georgina told us about the editorial boards, the general review process and publishing schedules which I found really useful, as my MSc thesis is currently being prepared for journal submission (fingers crossed it actually gets published!). Afterwards, we spoke to Althea Howard who is in charge of the Royal Meteorological Society membership and journal subscriptions. Having admired (myself more so than Archie, it has to be said...) her very large and impressive collection of Christmas decorations, she showed us the online system which records all current members as well as updating some information on my specific page. In addition, she showed us some of the old membership record books from the very start of the Society in 1850 which were very impressive.

We finished off the day by doing some further work on our research pieces, before heading off home for the day. In addition to the Cancun article, I am also preparing two shorter pieces (in the style of the Liz’ ‘i’ column) one on weather-related disruption to commerce/industry which seems highly topical at this present time with flights cancelled and Royal Mail unable to deliver in many areas due to the recent heavy snowfall, particularly in Scotland. The other piece will be loosely based on the upcoming Royal Wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton (which I confess to having very little interest in the actual event...) and the prospects of fine weather on their chosen day. I’m hoping to tie this into weather modification, which is an area – along with other geo-engineering schemes – that I found fascinating, albeit terrifying to think that we could manipulate the weather and climate when we do not even fully understand them yet.

Wednesday 15th December 2010

This morning, Archie and I accompanied Liz to the University of Reading Department of Meteorology where she was due to give a talk to 20 or so Chinese delegates from the Chinese national meteorological office (CMA). During the talk, Liz introduced and discussed the structure and aims of the Royal Meteorological Society, the recent creation of theWeather Club and then opened the floor to questions from the delegates. As many of the delegates did not speak English, Liz stopped every few moments to allow an interpreter to translate what she was saying. Presuming the interpreter was translating mostly word for word, I was often amazed at how much longer the Chinese was for what Liz had said! Midway through the questions, Dr Pete Inness, who is a Teaching Fellow at the University, poked his head around the door and Archie and I were treated to a guided tour of the Meteorology Department. We were shown around the practical labs including the Fluid Dynamics lab and the outdoor meteorological enclosure. The latter was just a short walk away from the main building and housed a huge range of instruments, including a multitude of rain gauges, soil thermometers and radiation detectors. The Met Department at Reading was certainly very impressive with fantastic facilities and seemed to be a very lively department. Archie is very keen on doing a possible undergraduate degree at Reading and so got a chance to ask Pete lots of questions and find out more about the course.

I really enjoyed this morning and it was great to be able to sit in on Liz’s talk and get the opportunity to look around the Reading met department.

After lunch (and finally finishing all my Christmas shopping!) and for the remainder of the afternoon, we settled down to continue research and work on our written pieces although the internet was still being particularly temperamental.

Thursday 16th December 2010

Today is my final day at the Society and I will be sad to leave as I have really enjoyed this week and meeting everyone there. This morning, Archie and I started work on a joint article about the likelihood of the UK experiencing a White Christmas 2010. Despite the wireless internet still playing up, we were largely able to access the website through the computer in the Conference room. In addition, Rachael provided us with paper copies of recent news articles.

Although I have previously worked on many group projects and presentations throughout school and University, I find it quite challenging sometimes to work on producing written text quickly with others, as ways of working, thought processes and writing styles can vary quite enormously between individuals. However, we split the work up equally, each reading half of the total amount of papers Rachael had given us, writing notes and then working towards building a basic structure of the key points we wanted to cover in the article, before moving onto padding this out with details.

During the late morning, Liz came in with the updated charts showing the forecast developing weather systems. We looked ahead to Saturday where the charts showed us that there would be some interesting developments moving eastwards across central England and Liz warned us to expect plenty of snow and disruptions to travel. We checked the Met Office website for the weather warning statuses and Liz was surprised to see that there was only a general ‘Be aware’ weather warning in place across most of the UK whereas she was expecting very poor weather. Within about half an hour of Liz saying this, the weather warning was upgraded across these key regions to a ‘Be prepared’ status! As the final opportunity to ask Liz questions (as she was off to TV interview in the afternoon), Archie and myself took full advantage launching into a long list, particularly focussing on the future of public weather broadcasts and whether it would make a move into showing percentage uncertainties of the likelihood of weather as they do in the States.

After a late lunch, Archie and myself spent the remaining hours of the afternoon continuing work on our joint piece on the likelihood of a White Christmas. Unfortunately, although we finished a large majority of it, we simply ran out of time and so as Archie’s final day is tomorrow, he will continue work on it by himself.

At 4pm it was time to bid goodbye to everyone at the Royal Meteorological Society and wish Archie the best of luck with his future (of which I have no doubt that he will succeed – as mentioned before, I wish I had shown the enterprise at 15 to know exactly what I wanted to do and contact the Society for work experience!). I have really enjoyed my few days at the Society and everyone has been so welcoming. It has been a fantastic opportunity to learning more about the inner workings of the Society and the newly launched theWeather club which is seeming to go from strength-to-strength. If anyone is interested in a possible career in meteorology or climatology, I really recommend getting in touch with the Royal Meteorological Society about a possible placement. Although by the end of the week, I certainly will not miss my four-hour daily round trip commute to the Society, I am definitely going to miss all the people there.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone – especially Liz and Rachael – for the experience and also to Archie for making the week so enjoyable. Thank you