D a p h n e Z a r a s
One of my favorite memories from Madison had nothing to do with school at all: the aurora! Id never seen it before living there, but during those two years in Madison I got to see aurora displays two or three times. The last time was at 4 a.m. one night during the last week I spent in Madison while finishing my thesis. Another graduate student was also working late and saw that the weather observation from the Madison airport indicated the aurora was visible. I grabbed a key to the roof and we went up to watch it for awhile. It was a soft, fuzzy green, without distinct shapes but a nice gift. It was nice to see it one more time before I moved away.
While finishing my masters degree I had several offers to continue on for a Ph.D. Another class I did really well in and liked a lot was Geophysical Fluid Dynamics. That professor was so impressed he offered me money to study under him for my Ph.D.! I was grateful, but still unsure what I wanted to study. I decided to take some time off from school to help me think. Then a job at NASAs Langley Research Center came open. I appliedand got it!
So the next year and a half I lived in Hampton, Virginia studying ozone chemistry. It was a great working environment and our work was interesting. I was working with a young Ph.D. who was accomplishing a lot. We wrote three formal papers in just over a year! One was with Susan Solomon, a famous atmospheric chemist who came up with ideas she was able to prove about how ozone is depleted in the Antarctic. [Note: Susan was one of 12 U.S. scientists just awarded the 1999 National Medal of Science from Predident Clinton at the White House!] Although I enjoyed the work, a severe thunderstorm with 1" diameter hail and a tornado a few days later made me realize we werent studying thunderstorms anymore and maybe I missed that... too much.
Next I moved to Washington, D.C. to work for NESDIS, NOAAs satellite service, before finally making it to Norman, Oklahoma. At NESDIS I worked on using satellite data to help predict heavy rainfall and flooding events. That was getting more interesting to me, but when a job opened at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma, I had to apply. They actually mentioned both satellite expertise and severe thunderstorms in their job description!
As it turns out, my time here in Norman, Oklahoma has been a continuation of my career soul-searching journey. I finally figured out that it was more than just the subject of research that was important to me. It was also the culture and nature of the job. Since I was one of only two people with satellite expertise at the NSSL, I felt isolated. My days were spent working alone most of the time, whereas in previous jobs I interacted with others a lot to do the work I was doing. So although the subject was interesting, I also needed more social interaction. This may be due in part to my gender, but also my personality. In retrospect it is not surprising to me that someone who had always thought of being a teacher would not feel comfortable or fully enjoy working in a very independent sort of job! It took me all this time to make an important distinction between the ability to do something and enjoying doing it!
So when our Webmaster left for another job, I quickly asked if I could move into her old position. In addition to being Webmaster, she talked with visitors to the lab and answered questions about severe weather and tornadoes from anyone who called or wrote to us. Many of the Web pages on our site have educational material or information about our research projects. It seemed like the perfect job where I could still work with computers (including programming, which I enjoy), be around science and scientists, but could also use my natural teaching skills to communicate science and interact with people.
I have really enjoyed the change and am now looking to further my schooling, perhaps by earning a Ph.D. in science education. I say Ph.D. because I work with highly educated people who are experts at what they do. Ive always known I was capable of earning a Ph.D. in science, but wasnt sure just what I wanted to study for the degree. Science education seems to be the perfect combination of science and communication and I want to truly be an expert at doing what I love to do.
Ed. Note: Daphne appears in LIVE FROM THE STORM program 2 describing some of the equipment used by the VORTEX project and describing what it's like to study tornadoes close up. She'll also be answering questions on-air and online as part of RESEARCHER Q&A.