Hydrological Sciences

From Physics to Interdisciplinary Climate Science: Interview with Florentine Weber, Early Career Scientist Representative

From Physics to Interdisciplinary Climate Science: Interview with Florentine Weber, Early Career Scientist Representative

Kirsten M Florentine Weber (born 1990), is the Early Career Scientist (ECS) representative of the Hydrological Sciences division of the EGU. She just finished her PhD and is starting a post-doctoral fellowship in 2023. 

As ECS representative, it is her job to help young researchers to navigate the community – to inform them about their opportunities, to listen to them, and give them a voice within the EGU.

Can you tell us about the focus of your research? What have you done so far and what are you doing next? 

I started my PhD back in 2017 in Sheffield in the UK. In cooperation with the UK Met Office, I worked on the hydrological cycle and atmospheric processes. The big question I asked myself was why the atmosphere was becoming drier

Now that I finished my PhD, I’ll be starting a post-doc in Bonn in Germany, at the European Center for Mid-Range Weather Forecasts and the German weather service, Deutscher Wetterdienst, DWD. During my PhD, I was working on data from the past. Now, I’ll be looking into the future. 

In my research, I’ll be focusing on surface processes in the water cycle, at quite a high resolution, both in terms of time and space. This is very exciting!

A key figure from Florentine’s PhD thesis, showing trends in annual relative humidity trends over land for the period of 2000–2017, compared to 1981–2010. Grid boxes of very significant trends (p < 0.05) are framed in grey. Negative trends are shown in ochre, positive trends in turquoise. (c) KMF Weber

What originally inspired you to go into this field? 

My background is in Physics. I’ve always wanted to understand what goes on around me, how natural phenomena arise and what consequences they entail. Weather and climate clearly impact us on a daily basis.

My PhD gave me the opportunity to acquire an understanding of how meteorology and climate work.

Florentine explaining atmospheric humidity dynamics in the Peak District, UK. (c) KMF Weber

Before that, I was a research assistant in Portugal, where I did a lot of fieldwork to evaluate pasture productivity and species composition, also using remote sensing. I enjoyed approaching a problem from different, literally, points of view. I realized that I also wanted to include the importance of biophysics and vegetation in my further research. 

Looking back, what was the most rewarding, and what was the most challenging aspect of doing your PhD? 

Let’s start with the challenging aspects, because when you master challenges, they automatically become rewards!

One of the biggest challenges I faced was learning how to code. During my PhD, I got pretty good at coding in Python. It fascinates me again and again how I type a couple of lines of code and get an image that we can analyze. 

One of the most rewarding aspects of my PhD was attending conferences and discussing my findings with experts and people interested in climate change, sustainability and water topics, sometimes even discussing with children. 

What were the biggest challenges in your post-PhD life? 

The biggest challenge after my PhD was letting go of the hyper-focus on my work. It was a difficult transition to spread my focus to things other than research. 

The other challenge was finding my way in the job jungle. So far, my career has been quite diverse, which has been an advantage. It meant I could relate to everyone I talked to on a certain level. With an interdisciplinary background, you have the chance of an exciting and challenging job, but it is also tricky to find these interdisciplinary positions. 

Florentine setting up a weather station with various meteorological sensors. (c) KMF Weber

You attended a lot of different networking events, seminars, and conferences. What experiences have you had with them? 

Attending these conferences is stimulating because of all the different people you meet. Everyone brings something, research results and perspectives, food for thought and discussions.

For example, I went to the UNFCCC COP 24. It was all about climate change, and we had academics and researchers, but also policymakers and activists and industry experts. 

It’s interesting how different people come together to talk about the same topic. They may have the same interest, but on different levels, and they have different approaches. 

What’s your advice to other early career scientists who want to attend those events?

Read through the program and make a list of priorities. See who you want to meet and approach those people. Listen a lot, but ask a lot of questions as well. 

Network. Have your LinkedIn profile updated or carry a few business cards – especially at non-academic conferences, people still exchange them. 

Most of all, just go for it. Don’t wait until later in your career – don’t miss out.

Florentine in Vienna, at the EGU conference, with ongoing Representative Elena Cristiano (center) and Young Hydrologic Society President Lina Stein (left). (c) KMF Weber

What is the main challenge that you think most young researchers encounter? 

Firstly, the hydrological sciences community is vast. Many things are going on, and it can easily become overwhelming. That’s why talking to people who can help you find your way through this big world is essential. If you attend the EGU General Assembly, have a look at the mentoring program.

The second challenge is finding what you want to do after your studies. It’s not straightforward. But again, it’s best if you ask for help. Most people in this community are very welcoming and ready to help!

Let Elena and me know if you have any ideas, requests or comments about the Hydrological Science division! ecs-hs@egu.eu

Christina is a hydrologist at the University of Montpellier in the South of France. She specialises in integrating remote sensing data into regional and local hydrological models. She's also the incoming 2023 Early career scientist (ECS) representative of the EGU's Hydrological Sciences division.


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