Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Decider

Friday, January 2, 2014
11:49 p.m.

Charlie the ~sixth grader

It's hard to believe that 10 years ago, when I was just a wee little sixth-grader, I played my first real prank on my mom. It was, of course, weather-related. There was a slight chance of snow in our area at the time and the National Weather Service had issued a "winter weather advisory" to address this. I decided it would be fun to take the advisory and change a few words to make it into a "blizzard warning" to give my mom a good scare. It worked; she totally fell for it. Of course, the blizzard never came to pass (in fact, we only got a rain-snow mix) but we still have the fake warning posted somewhere around our house. It was definitely one of my finer moments.

I've done many things since those days to propel myself into the meteorological community. I started a blog on Facebook during my freshman year of high school, and then moved it over to Blogspot during my sophomore year. An article was written about me that year in the "Garfield Messenger," Garfield's local newspaper, and I continued to stay fairly active as Garfield's unofficial meteorologist, issuing forecasts both over the intercom and to individual classes (especially when snow was in the forecast). I even joined the "Garfield News Network" (GNN) as their weatherman, and although the work I did there was not super extensive, it was pretty darn fun nonetheless.

I continued blogging throughout college, and had my blog mentioned in "The Daily," which is the UW's official newspaper my freshman year. During my sophomore year, I made a decision that would shape the course of my career; I joined my friend Tanner Petersen in being a blogger and editor for WeatherOn, a student-run organization that provides forecasts and blogs for the Pacific Northwest and beyond. I worked at KOMO News my junior year with the legendary Steve Pool, and also collaborated with Shannon O'Donnell, Scott Sistek, and Seth Wayne. Most recently, I was contacted via WeatherOn to write a report on hurricanes for the University of North Carolina's School of Government. Needless to say, I jumped on the opportunity and wrote, if I may say so myself, a pretty good article.

And here I am, about to graduate the University of Washington with a degree in atmospheric sciences.

I spent this weekend at the American Meteorological Society Student Conference in Phoenix, Arizona, and I gained a lot of insight into what I need to look out for in the future. I talked to some graduate schools, I learned about job opportunities, I handed out some resumes, I learned not to take Seattle's tap water for granted, and I even met a few weather celebrities.

Jim Cantore is as awesome as his head is shiny.
And while hanging out with Jim Cantore is great, it's not something I can do for a lifetime, let alone 30 seconds (there was a pretty long line of people waiting to get pictures taken). All of this begs the question: now that I'm graduating, what do I do with my life?

Just like the vast majority of atmospheric scientists, I got hooked on weather at a very young age. I was five years old, and my family was visiting some friends in Albuquerque. We woke up very early to drive to Northern New Mexico and came across an intense thunderstorm. It was still pitch-black, and the air was very humid. A light rain began to fall once we got on the freeway heading north, but this rain quickly crescendoed to a downpour as lightning danced over the mountains to my right. Just when I thought it couldn't rain any harder, it began to hail, and all the cars on the freeway slowed to 10 mph, with many deciding to pull over until the storm had lifted. From that moment on, I knew knew I wanted to spend my life studying the weather. I didn't know what I wanted to study, but I didn't need to worry about that yet. How could I? I couldn't even derive the hypsometric equation.

But the years went on, and I still found myself in the same situation: being very interested in weather, but being unsure of what field to go into. I was able to discover one thing; I loved sharing my knowledge of weather with the public. So I started my blog. Building upon that paradigm, I thought it would be really cool to be a TV broadcaster. But I thought about it some more, and then figured that being a broadcaster could be kinda boring. There's only so much excitement you can obtain from explaining the difference between partly sunny and partly cloudy (btw, I don't know what the difference is/if there is one/why they have the different terms in the first place). Then, I thought about going to graduate school and getting a Ph.D and becoming a professor/science educator to the public, like Cliff Mass at the University of Washington or Neil deGrasse Tyson at, well, a lot of different places. But I didn't know if I wanted to be affiliated with academia my whole life, and, to be honest, I didn't know if I was prepared to put in another 6-7 years of intensive schooling before graduating. I would have loved to be a hurricane hunter with the Air Force, but I have epilepsy, and this prohibits me from doing such a thing (too bad, cause that'd be a pretty sweet gig). And I'd love to see if I could make some cash being a storm chaser, but, then again, I'd like to be able to afford fresh vegetables every now and then.

My internship at KOMO was awesome, and it made the broadcasting side a whole lot more attractive, even if I wasn't in front of the camera. There was free food (big plus) and everybody was super nice. For a while, I decided that I wanted to become a tv weathercaster that did a whole bunch of on-site reporting for severe storms whenever they would pop up. But then I saw the other people around me, and I realized that I had some extremely stiff competition. In fact, at the AMS conference, multiple people told me my chances of making it were slim, not because I was some ugly, tongue-tied monstrosity, but just because it is such a competitive field.

The truth is, it's pretty hard to find a job in atmospheric sciences no matter what. Here's an example: it's common for over 200 applicants to apply for one job at a regional National Weather Service forecasting office. Getting into graduate school is not exactly a walk in the park either. It's easier to get jobs in the private sector, but it's still very competitive there as well. The takeaway lesson that I learned from the conference is that if a job pops up, grab it. Even if the job sucks and is in an even worse location, it's better than nothing.

But one thing is for sure. At this point in my life, I'm the Decider. And while you can't decide to win, you can always decide to try.


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