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From running experiments to running in the mountains: A day in the life of a NOAA Boulder scientist
Katie Valentine
/ Categories: Profile, Women in Research

From running experiments to running in the mountains: A day in the life of a NOAA Boulder scientist

In honor of Women's History Month, NOAA scientists from across the country are taking readers inside what a typical day in their life looks like. Today's story comes from Laura Slivinski, a research scientist with CIRES and NOAA ESRL Physical Sciences Division in Boulder, CO.

To an outside observer, my days probably all look very similar: get into the office around 8, check emails while drinking coffee, and spend the rest of the day at my desk or in meetings. In reality, though, my days are all different, which keeps it exciting. For instance, I currently have several different projects I’m working on: I’m wrapping up a project that reconstructed the past 200 years of weather by combining historical observations from ship logs and weather stations with a modern weather forecast model, and I recently started on a new a project whose goal is to improve global weather forecasts. So, when I feel stalled on one task, there are always several others I can focus on.

The Flatirons

The Flatirons

ESRL is located very close to Boulder's Flatirons rock formations. Credit: NOAA

A typical day for me might begin with setting up a computer experiment. Since the data I work with is huge, I need to run my experiments on a High-Performance Computing (HPC) system. This means I have to compile the code, download the input data, and modify the scripts before submitting the job to the HPC system. Then, since lots of other people also want to run their jobs on the same system, I wait for the job to complete (this can take anywhere between hours and days — sometimes even weeks — depending on the machine, how many other people are submitting jobs, and the job itself!).

Meanwhile, I can analyze and visualize the results from yesterday’s experiments. While it can be satisfying to see expected results (hooray, my experiment configuration was correct!), it can be even more exciting to see results I didn’t expect. Now I have to figure out if it was a mistake in my configuration, or if it’s an interesting science result. If I get stuck, meeting with colleagues can help. While I enjoy solving problems on my own, discussions with other scientists can help me see my results in a new light, and maybe even bring up new science questions to investigate.

Conference Travel

Conference Travel

I don't do field work, but I do get to go to conferences in cool places! This photo is of me on a beach in New Zealand, when I took some personal time after a conference in Auckland. Credit: Laura Slivinski

If it’s nice outside, I might take my lunch break to go for a run in Boulder’s iconic Flatirons. Since moving to Boulder in Fall of 2015, one of my favorite things about working at ESRL has been the proximity to the mountains. Not only do they provide a photogenic backdrop for the lab, but they act as a neighborhood playground for any outdoor enthusiast.

In the afternoon, I may try to attend a department seminar. It’s easy to get tunnel vision and focus only on my own projects, but seminars help me to get a larger view of all the science done in our lab. Plus, cookies!

After all the hard work of running code, analyzing output, and discussing figures with colleagues, wrapping up a project ultimately means disseminating my results and conclusions to the scientific community. This usually means writing and publishing a paper, and if I’m lucky, presenting the results at a scientific meeting. My favorite work days are often during these meetings because I get to share my work, learn about a wide range of new scientific results in a short period of time, and meet with colleagues from around the world. Plus, it’s an amazing opportunity to travel: since beginning graduate school, I’ve attended conferences in nine countries on five continents around the world!

In the end, even though I spend a lot of time at my desk, my career is far from a boring desk job. I get to ask questions, solve problems, and engage with the community about science!

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