Saturday, August 28, 2010

Aha on perspective

I was pondering on a talk I will give at the lab about communicating effectively to the potential buyer of your resume. Part of my presentation was specifically devoted to perspective. Instead of thinking about YOU, you need to be thinking about them. What will they want, need, look for and how will you sell yourself in that light. If you can't you are clearly not passionate at this level.

Upon thinking more about perspective it dawned on me. Perspective is defined as a comparison of views. You have yours and they have theirs. To have perspective, you analyze the other side. Not just once mind you, but an ensemble of viewpoints. This makes your analysis more robust because you can rationalize more about what they want and don't want. That is part of the exercise on perspective.

It would appear in our current polarized society, people pretend to have perspective ... having considered someone else's viewpoint. But the prevailing character has been either a biased viewpoint (one interpretation only) or fundamentally flawed viewpoint from which they can disregard that viewpoint.

Putting it another way, you believe X to be true. Someone else believes Y to be true. The person who thinks X, casts Y in a bad light, discounts the value of that viewpoint and then dismisses it. The whole point of perspective is to acknowledge that point of view and incorporate it. Sure if it is flawed, you should point it out. But typically people think in very different ways, and before summarily dismissing anothers view you need to assess its validity, or validate your own viewpoint. In a sense we always to calibrate our view in order to validate our perspective.

I find the current political discourse to be much ado about nothing. To me it is a lack of perspective from, now three sides, of the same coin. The level of communication is reduced to soundbites of attention getting non-sense or rallies about fundamentals. Some of these issues spring up because people have not found appropriate people with which to debate accurately or objectively.

A third political party has long been thought unnecessary. I disagree. I think we need a third team, who sits on the fence of the argument understands or strives to understand AND then communicate the broader and FINER points of the conversation as an arbiter. A negotiator if you will. An agent of compromise.

It is ironic that we strive for peace in the middle east for generations, and we dont strive for perspective or communication or facts in our political discourse.

I suppose the same happens all across America, in business arrangements (Reality TV shows are predicated on people who fail on many levels to communicate or lack perspective), families (divorce rate is pretty high, plus there is wife-swap the TV show), and friendships.

I can see the broadness of these effects in my microcosm, perhaps even being one of these people who lacks perspective or fails to communicate. ID'ing the issue is one thing. Fixing it is difficult but hardly does it qualify as impossible. Unfortunately it takes 3 people and time to fix it.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Katrina - My look back

5 years ago I gave my Intro class an assignment. Forecast the landfall and intensity of Katrina.

It was a forecasting exercise. They weren't supposed to be justified or have reasoning of any kind. I gave them the National Hurricane Center link where they could follow it along. I was hoping they would loop satellite imagery, read forecast discussions, follow the projected track over the several day period.

I wanted them to take ownership of their forecast. That is, I wanted them to realize what they were doing more than what they were forecasting. They were making a projection of doom. A projection where people, actual real people, in their own country, maybe even in their own state, would act based on that forecast. If they watched the news they got to see what those forecasts brought about:

Mandatory Evacuation orders;
Descriptions of doom along the coastline;
the evacuation of countless people via clogged highway;
The media reports of people NOT leaving nor worrying.

Then the other night, NatGeo presented Witness: Katrina.

It showed the beer laden hurricane parties. People preparing with duct tape, candles, and supplies. people evacuating. Police doing city wide patrols. News media covering the storm. Stormchasers stormchasing. People trapped in the rafters watching the water rise. people hanging onto their front porch for two days. People being rescued by helicopter. Dead bodies floating in the water.

The very definition of destruction was accurately viewed through regular, everyday cameras from regular people.

I knew it was going to hit close to New Orleans and that the storm surge would be impressive. Upwards of 35 feet of water at the coast, which if I recall was a few feet above forecasts. The track of Katrina, her strength prior to landfall and the shape of the coastline made for the perfect surge event. The levies were an afterthought, especially s the media reports rolled in during that morning. I knew they would come, it was just a matter of when and where and how.

Not sure what those kids learned that week. But I am pretty sure a few of them will remember that exercise and the aftermath. I hope I made them appreciate the strength and unpredictability of severe weather hazards, and the predictability of shorter range forecasts. Perhaps even the predictability of unpredictability of the storm surge in Florida, Mississippi, and Alabama.

As far as my personal feelings go, it was a tragedy of course. On par with OKC and 9-11 but without the "we hate you" part added in. It was as disastrous as natural disasters can be. But that comes with an asterisk ...because it could have been worse. Had Katrina finished her eyewall cycle 9 hours earlier she would have been stronger, bigger, with more surge.

We really wont know Katrina's impact until the next big coastal city is threatened. Sure there have been a few already. But Katrina was the beginning since it was the biggest. They didnt make movies after Isabel wrecked southwest FL in a very small path of destruction. Nor did Ike inspire documentaries and tv shows. Only time will tell.

One thing is for certain. The hurricane research community responded rather well. Currently 3 field programs trying to better understand hurricane genesis, hurricane prediction, and hurricane processes this year. One was ongoing doing Katrina too. The results are flowing in, but there is still alot to understand ... including communicating with the public.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The hunt for jobs

I was recently asked to give my perspective on the hunt for jobs in my field. This came on the heels of a seminar which was a job interview that I saw. I have also been watching too much reality TV (cooking primarily), but this has given me a new perspective on the current challenges of job seeking, interviewing, and job getting.

Lets start with Food Network's requirements:
1. have star power yet be relatable and command respect,
2. food knowledge, tricks, tips, and authority,
3. getting your Point Of View to shine through even the dishes you dont like.

So, to put these in meteorology speak:
1. Publications
2. a complete tool box of skills
3. able to communicate to sell your science (1) and sell your work (2).

It sounds simple. But there is much more too it. People that hire are looking for more:
1. Fit: Not just will you fit in around here. Its more fit in with the people who do this work or fit in with the dynamics of the group (personality), and fit in with the direction of your work and its application.
2. Fit: Is this the place where you will be dedicated and passionate about your work? Can you make sustainable progress on projects?
3. Skill: Do you have the skills now to begin your work, and are you capable of adding new skills, or open new avenues of work?
4. Savvy: Can you sell your work, your science, your skills, and you? Can you make people feel good about hiring you? Not just make people feel good they picked the best of 5 candidates (all 5 could have sucked, you were just the least sucky), but rather got the best fit for the position?

This pretty much sums it up. These are hard things to ask a bunch of scientists who have been hell bent on computer programming their way through publications which interest them or have interested their mentors. These questions require something different: PERSPECTIVE.

Perspective takes time. It requires an analysis of the past 3 degrees, multiple papers, multiple projects, and most of all success and FAILURES. If you have not failed you might already have perspective that has allowed to avoid that part of the journey. Chances are if you are reading my perspective, you have failed at something. As I have.

The good thing about perspective is that everybody has it. Yours, theirs, someone else's. Very few people have the ability to communicate directly with you about their perspective. Frankly, few scientists have the ability to constructively give you their perspective of you without smashing your dreams and having you hate them. Therefore most people won't give you an accurate depiction of their perspective of you...until it is too late. they would much rather watch as you fall off the cliff and as you are dangling there holding on by a thread, you ask them, and they tell you. Your first reaction will be to let go.

And that is my perspective. Harsh. Brutal. Robust. And then you pick yourself up with your new perspective and march on having learned a new lesson. This is science ... just as cut-throat as business. Produce or you too can be replaced.

back to the hunt.

Now that you have your perspective, it is your JOB to sell every bit of yourself as you can.
Where does your passion lie?
What skills have you acquired?
What types of problems do you like to solve and what problems are you capable of solving?
What have you already accomplished and what do you want to accomplish in the next 5 years?
Where do you want to work and what will get you there?

The point here is to have a Plan. It doesn't have to be glamorous or over-the-top. It has to be something you can be passionate about. Something you can talk about for hours. A serious interest. Something where: If someone approached me on the street to talk about "that cloud over there", I could get serious and start yapping endlessly about what I instantly observe. Yet I realize who I am speaking with and speak appropriately. That is the job interview elevator speech for recruiters. The yapping part, well, thats when you are talking to the pro's who want to hire you ... only by yapping I mean speaking clearly and intelligently without making assumptions. Speak what you know and the uncertainty with which you know it.

It is always the right time to plan ahead for the job you want. Practice makes perfect. This includes writing your CV, cover letter, research or teaching statements, or writing essays on how bad you want the dream job that just opened up. This also goes for interviewing skills. Apply for positions you might fit in but dont want. Use the opportunity to practice your interview skills. Taking to people you don't know, about things they like talking about, and spending whole days with strangers requires practice at the professional level. Someday the people you are talking with will be hiring for your dream job and you want to look polished ... a true veteran of the interview process so you can handle the subtleties of getting that dream job. You cant be the least sucky, you have to be the one they are desperate to hire or else they will have to start their search all over again.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Little swirls

It is also neat to watch the various types of tropical storms that develop either in very favorable conditions, or sheared conditions.  Tropical Storm Colin was highly sheared and the convection that was over the low level center became displaced to the east exposing this low level center. One particular "hot tower" went up just as the low level center attempted to re-align with the mid level center, and as that tower collapsed a little whirl emerged. What I always find to be remarkable is how long it takes to spin up one of these little whirls: 1.5-2 hours. The animation is much more impressive as this little hot tower goes up, dissipates and out spins the little whirl.