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Richard Somerville

Published on: May 23, 2013

Meet climate scientist, Dr. Richard Somerville.

Richard Somerville

What is your earliest memory of wanting to be a scientist?

At age 10, I read a book called "Everyday Weather and How It Works," which is still available. To quote one reviewer, with whom I agree 100%, "It became one of my favorite books as a kid--and I still have it, as a matter of fact. The author not only explains the scientific forces of meterology, but also gets into practical applications of that information. Using readily available items, the book shows how to construct working weather instruments--hygrometer, anemometer, rain guage, and more. When you finish, you have a working weather station and some knowledge about forecasting tomorrow's conditions using the data you've collected. It was a blast when I was a kid."
What’s the most exciting part of your research?

The daily interactions with many very intelligent and motivated and wonderful people, including my colleagues, research collaborators, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.
When you encounter frustrating situations or dead-ends, what keeps you going?

Persistence.  I think it is a characteristic that is important in many areas of life, not just science.  Everybody will encounter obstacles and disappointments, and the issue is whether you give up easily or not.
What’s the strangest place/situation you’ve been?

Living on a houseboat on Dal Lake in Srinagar, Kashmir, an absolutely magical and unforgettable place.
What aspect of your research/science would you happily do away with?

The need to waste time coping with the bureaucratic nature of certain large organizations.
Where do you see your research taking you?

It is now increasingly taking me into the world of communication and outreach of climate change science and the interactions between science, politics and policy.
How have your friends/relatives who are not scientists reacted to your career/research?

Most people have been supportive, some have been too easily over-impressed, and a few have been mystified and bewildered.
What advice do you have for students considering a career in the Earth and space sciences?

If you're passionate about it, then plunge in and make it happen, but do something besides taking science courses.  You should seek out and volunteer for experience in settings where research is done, including unpaid internships.  I also strongly recommend working hard at oral and written communication.  The final product of scientific research is usually publications and talks, and nobody is born with the ability to communicate well, but this is something that can be studied and learned.  Communication certainly deserves much more effort than most scientists give to it.  Michael Faraday famously said that the secret of his success as a scientist was simply, "Work. Finish. Publish."  Finishing requires the persistence I have already mentioned, and publishing, if done well, absolutely requires the ability to communicate.