Meet atmospheric chemist Arlene Fiore. Arlene researches how natural and human-caused pollutants affect the climate and how air quality changes with changes in climate. AGU awarded Arlene the James B. Macelwane Medal in December 2011, adding to her other awards (Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers July 2006 and AGU’s James R. Holton Junior Scientist Award December 2005).
When you were a child, what did you think you'd be doing as an adult?
I’m told that my plan at age 6 was to be a carpenter like my grandfather and a cashier at our local supermarket. I attribute my interest in Earth Science to an inspiring ninth grade teacher whose lessons included looking at constellations in a blow-up planetarium.
What’s the most exciting part of your research?
When a coherent story first emerges from analysis of models and observations. I enjoy the various phases of the research process, from brainstorming new approaches to telling the final story in presentations and papers.
When you encounter frustrating situations or dead-ends, what keeps you going?
Knowing that there are plenty of other research questions to address. One of the perks of my current position is being able to mentor projects with students and postdoctoral researchers and work with them to find ways to get past the frustrating situations that inevitably arise. Connecting to the mentoring question below, knowing there are “others like me” that have encountered similar situations provides much-needed perspective that the current challenge is just a phase and those tougher times make the fruitful-ends that much sweeter.
What’s the strangest place/situation you’ve been?
There was an odd collision of my personal and professional lives at a conference where I found myself, my husband, and 1-year-old daughter eating dinner with one of my highly respected senior colleagues, his wife and, a Nobel laureate. It was a lovely dinner, and we have a photo to show for it.
How can mentoring help a career in the Earth and space sciences?
Mentoring, whether formal or informal, helps – and I don’t believe this is limited to Earth and space sciences – by providing the perspective of, ‘well, here’s what worked for me’ or ‘have you considered looking at it from this perspective?’ There is strong power in peer mentoring, and I’ll take this opportunity to acknowledge the Earth Science Women’s Network (http://eswnonline.org/). I have benefited from the wisdom of many colleagues, both senior and junior, and especially my family.
Your research has affected policy at the Environmental Protection Agency and the United Nations - do you think that scientists should be mindful of policy implications of or applications for their research?
I think many of us enjoy working on science questions that have societally relevant implications and to the extent that we can present our scientific findings in the metrics or context that is most useful to policy needs, why not take those extra steps to do so? I also believe in the importance of basic, curiosity-driven research that may not have immediate societal applications.
What aspect of your research/science would you happily do away with?
Some of the administrative aspects of managing projects can be time-consuming. As anyone who has worked closely with me knows, my strength is not in debugging parallelized model codes. Fortunately I work with very talented programmers who never fail to sort out how to get past these roadblocks.
Where do you see your research taking you?
I’m currently very excited about questions at the interface between climate and atmospheric chemistry, stratospheric-tropospheric connections, and biosphere-atmosphere interactions. Enormous efforts by diverse scientific communities over the past decades have led to the development of very complex models that couple these Earth science systems that were previously studied separately. Analysis of these models, combined with ever-growing observational datasets, should lead to new discoveries about how the Earth System functions and evolves.
How have your friends/relatives who are not scientists reacted to your career/research?
Positively, many with much interest.
What advice do you have for students considering a career in the Earth and space sciences?
Find questions that excite your curiosity, work hard, and let your enthusiasm shine through in your conversations with colleagues and friends.