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Ask for what you need and don’t give up by Julienne Stroeve

Julienne Stroeve

Julienne Stroeve

Professor at University College London

twitter: @JulienneStroeve

Julienne Stroeve is an American climatologist known for her research on remote sensing of ice and snow. She is Professor of Polar Observation & Modelling at University College London, as well as a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Stroeve is a member of the American Geophysical Union and an ISI highly cited researcher and was recently awarded a Senior Canada 150 Chair position at the University of Manitoba.

When I was young, I had hoped to become an Astronaut as I was intrigued by outer space and thought it would be amazing to see the Earth from space. Thus, when I went to college, I decided to major in Aerospace Engineering, obtaining both a Bachelors and Masters in that field from the University of Colorado. Sadly, I suffer badly from motion sickness, and after a visit to Disney World and a ride on the Mars Simulator, where they spin you around very fast in order to simulate the g-forces experienced during rocket launch, I realized I would never be an Astronaut. Yet while I would never travel into outer space, I could instead travel to the ends of the Earth. When I was finishing my Masters, I took a Physical Climatology Class from the Geography department and fell in love with the idea of doing field work in remote polar regions. I switched to the Geography department for my PhD, with a focus on deriving surface albedo and surface temperature from satellites. Having strong math and science skills made the transition to the Geography Department and the research work I undertook for my PhD easy. I was 28 the first time I went to Greenland. The ice calving off of the ice sheet into the Jakobshavn fjord was the most beautiful site I had ever seen up until that point in my life.

Jakobshavn Fjord, Greenland

I completed my PhD in 1996, a year later than intended since I had a child during my 2nd year of the PhD. While this was not planned and perhaps not optimal, in some ways starting a family while in school works, as you have a lot of flexibility with your time and the hours you can work.

One thing I realized while finishing up my PhD was that it was important to maintain a healthy balance in my home life and work life. I didn’t want to be away from my kids as much as I saw my PhD supervisor doing. When I finished my PhD, I was very fortunate to land a part-time position (20 hrs/week) at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), where I provided science support for cryospheric data products archived and distributed by NSIDC. After about 2 years, I started to obtain independent funding from organizations such as NASA and NSF and slowly transitioned from being support staff to a fully-funded NSIDC scientist. This of course came with much more responsibility and work, but I was fortunate that NSIDC and the University of Colorado was flexible with my in-office hours, allowing me to work from home at times and be able to drop off and pick up my kids from school. When I started at NSIDC, there wasn’t a telecommuting policy in place, but I asked for one, and the management was supportive and adopted a policy for myself and others. I was approached to work for the government during that time, with a much higher salary, but since they didn’t have a telecommuting option, I declined the position.

While I was able to maintain a healthy balance in my early years as a scientist, as my career progressed this became increasingly difficult. This of course is a natural progression of one’s career as more responsibilities are demanded of us, often without any additional compensation. It’s easier now that my children are full-grown, but it can be very challenging when children are young and you are trying to keep on top of doing good science. I find the science community has become a lot more competitive than when I was starting out. Part of this is because there are more scientists in my field, but the emphasis on having a high h-index is getting a bit out of hand. This can be particularly challenging for women if they want to try to balance having children with a career. Things are so fast-paced these days, and women often shy away from an over-competitive working environment. If you take time out to have children, your h-index will suffer and sadly hiring committees look at your publication record when considering who to hire. Thus, more effort is needed to give women credit for taking some time off of science to have children or work part-time. I recently did hire a woman who took time off to have children and who now wants to come back into science part-time. Providing these opportunities for young women is very rewarding. This is one of the most fulfilling aspects of my current position as Professor at University College London and a new Canada 150 Chair at the University of Manitoba—being able to give young women a chance. I mentor quite a few female students and I actively try to find ways for women to stay in academia.

I feel that I have been very fortunate with the institutions I worked for, especially right after my degree and after already having one child during my PhD. The key was to ask for what I needed (i.e. flexible working hours) and to not give up.

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