HS
Hydrological Sciences

Early Career Scientists

YHS interview Martyn P. Clark: “rainfall-runoff modelling, per se, is dead”

In its “Hallway Conversations” series, the Young Hydrologic Society has recently published an interview with Martyn P. Clark, who is currently professor and the Associate Director of Centre for Hydrology and Canmore Coldwater Lab, at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada. The interview was conducted by Sina Khatami, a PhD student at the University of Melbourne. With their agreement, we reproduce below some short extracts of the interview. For the full interview, visit the YHS Blog (here).

Martyn Clark did his undergraduate degree and his Master degree at the University of Canterbury, in New Zealand, and was awarded a PhD degree by the University of Colorado in Boulder. After working back in New Zealand for a while, he came back to the US in 2010 to work at NCAR. You can check the interview he gave to HEPEX in 2016, while in Boulder (see here). In December 2018, he moved to University of Saskatchewan, where he is currently working with new challenges ahead.

Your research spans across a wide range of domains of hydrology, hydro-climatology and model development. How did you expand your knowledge and expertise so widely?

In the early days, it was more of a random walk. My interests evolved into different areas and I pursued opportunities where they were. I read a lot. Even when I was doing my master thesis, I read and read and read. So, I was able to get a fairly good understanding of the literature and identify what the major science questions are. Later on in my career, I’ve been much more strategic than tactical as I was in early stages of my career: thinking about what the big problems are that we want to solve, and how we can go for the funding opportunities out there that lead more towards this larger vision… more of a proactive approach, than a reactive one.

Over the past few years, you’ve become the Editor-in-Chief of WRR (see the EoS interview), moved from public sector (NCAR) to academia and from Colorado to the Canadian Rockies. Each of these decisions are big enough to be a challenge for a few years. So, first, how’re you holding up [I laugh]? And what motivated such major changes?

Well these were more sequential than simultaneous [we laugh]. So, let’s deal with them sequentially. I was asked to apply for the Editor-in-Chief position for WRR. They had a search committee together and they asked me if I would consider doing it. My initial response was no. Then I thought about it for a while. Two things had happened in that year. First, I was promoted to senior scientist at NCAR, which is the top level there. So, I didn’t have any opportunities for additional promotion. And also, I was elected as Fellow of AGU. So, I thought I have kind of established myself in my career and perhaps now is the time to give back to the community more. And there was this opportunity. I was weighing all of my commitments and then thinking about how I could push the field forward. And I thought, well… what good can I do? I thought if I publish, say, two fewer papers a year and be the WRR Editor-in-Chief instead, I can probably do more good and continue along my current trajectory. I was also keen for a new additional challenge.

NCAR is federally funded research and development centre and received a lot of its funding from government and through NSF (National Science Foundation in the USA). The decision to move to the University of Saskatchewan was in part because I wanted the broader challenges that comes with the university setting. And it was in part because of the funding that they already had in place with the Canadian government as part of the Global Water Futures (https://gwf.usask.ca/) programs. This really provided the opportunity to achieve a lot of my research ambitions that I’ve had for many years.

Reviewing and handling numerous papers as WRR Editor-in-Chief has provided you with a big picture of the research community. How is that is influencing your own approach to defining new questions, particularly for your new career line at University of Saskatchewan.

Yes. For my new career at the University of Saskatchewan at Canmore, a wonderful location by the way, we are building up the research program there (https://uofs-comphyd.github.io/). A lot of the research thrusts and the global water futures program are the things that I have been working on over the past twenty years anyway. It is dominated by two main application questions: (1) improving streamflow forecasting methods, and (2) improving assessments of impacts of climate change on water security. Those are the two applied questions that have guided my research on process understanding, model development, strengthening the link between algorithms and theories, etc. It is not as if I’m going to a new research area; I’m going into an area where I have had an extensive presence for a very long time. So, that part of it is not new. But the part that is forcing me to extend myself a little bit is that the funding available is more than an order of magnitude larger than what I ever had before. So, being able to think more strategically, like build up a large cadre of postdocs to answer these questions, or how to orchestrate a large research program — it is really exciting.

Looking back at your research career, what do you think your major breakthroughs are and why?

I think my major breakthrough is quite broad. But I can list some specific papers if you want. Developing a more structured approach to hydrological model development is something that I’ve been working on for many years. The first paper that I really published in that area was my FUSE paper, working with bucket style models. Then my most recent big modelling paper was my SUMMA paper (paper 1 & paper 2) [both are modelling frameworks that allow a user to analyse the impact of individual modelling decision; such as the choice of model structure, the choice of specific flux equations, and the choice of numerical method with which to solve the model equations].

How do you describe your research style? Or, what are the main elements for you when you’re impressed by a piece of research?

For me, personally, I’m really interested in making a step change in our understanding of modelling capabilities. So, most of the major papers that I’m proud of have had a gestation period of more than five years. And so, if you look at my publication history — it’s kind of interesting — I had no first-author research publications in the time period of 2011 to 2015, when I was developing SUMMA. And that can be a little bit dangerous [he laughs] for people at earlier stages of their career. I really wanted to make a major contribution in the way that we develop models. I was worried that a lot of our model development was somewhat ad hoc and we didn’t have the structure that we needed in order to really understand where and what model weaknesses are. I was worried that model evaluation wasn’t done in a controlled way and that we really needed a new framework in order to push forward in those areas.

What would you identify as the main gaps or big picture questions of hydrological sciences for the coming decades that you think early career scientists can pursue?

I think we really need to evolve towards a more interdisciplinary Earth System Science approach to modelling. For many years, hydrology has been rooted somewhat in what was called rainfall-runoff modelling. That term is not really applicable anymore, because we now are modelling a large number of complex interrelated processes in the terrestrial water cycle. So, multi-process modelling in an Earth System modelling context, not just focusing on the short-term fluxes but also the longer-term evolution of our systems. Understanding the evolution of soils in the catchment, understanding the evolution of vegetation in the catchment and understanding how those slowly varying processes feed back on to the higher frequency variability, which has typically been the domain of hydrologists.

And this goes back to the SUMMA paper that you mentioned?

Well that’s just a part of the bigger picture. SUMMA has a more complete representation of the terrestrial hydrological cycle than many hydrological models. But many models already have that level of complexity. SUMMA doesn’t even begin to get into the issues of bio-geochemistry, catchment co-evolution, etc., which are going to be really important. What SUMMA does is provides a structured template for process-based hydrological models which can be extended into the Earth system modelling framework. But it’s nowhere near complete enough of what we need moving toward. So, what I’m talking about is not something that we can do in the next couple of years but something that we need much more concerted effort over the timescales of several decades.

Are there any papers or books that you would like to recommend on this grand idea of expanding the spectrum of processes within current hydrological models towards Earth system modelling?

The first part of the SUMMA paper provides some beginning thoughts in that area but it doesn’t go as far as it needs to. We wrote a paper on improving the representation of hydrological processes on Earth System models. That’s really just beginning to scratch the surface as well. I think the paper that everybody should read is the one led by Ying Fan on providing the link between hillslope hydrology and Earth system modelling that provides lots of pointers in that direction. But it’s funny that you ask that. There’s something that I’ve been kind of stewing on for a while, which is to put together a coherent commentary paper that emphasizes that as a research direction that’s necessary.

You’ve pointed out many great things so far, is there any other advice you may have for young hydrologists?

I think I’ve covered a lot of it already. Be bold. Think about how you can really make substantial advances in the research frontier. Be strategic. You need the incremental progress. You need the intermediate scale products as you are conducting your research so that you can feed the beast [he smiles] and work effectively through the career track. But those intermediate scale products need to be conducted within the context of a larger scale vision. So, really think about defining that vision. Talk about that with your colleagues and keep refining that. And having an idea how your career contributions will really begin to make a difference.

Some guidance would be to think about three levels of strategic planning or technical planning in some respects: (1) what do you want to accomplish in your career? In terms of always keeping that and the longest timescale. (2) What’s the thing that you’re going to present at the next conference? Most people are thinking about those two or perhaps not giving as much attention to the vision aspects as they should. But the third that often gets neglected based on my interactions with people is (3) what are you going to do tomorrow, and the coming week? So, basically organising your activities on the shorter timescale, so that they are feeding the ambitions that you have on the longer timescales, I think is really important.

This might be a somewhat stupid question. Do you have any measures to evaluate a good PhD or postdoc? Like the number of their publications or good publications in a year, etc.

Yeah, this has been my problem. I don’t like the way that people are being judged in academics. There’s a saying that managers know how to count but they don’t know how to read [we both laugh]… In the sense that people are focused too much on outputs, like how many papers you published, than outcomes. I think that things are going to change. I wrote an editorial in WRR on the citation impact of hydrology journals. There I was talking about the need to shift away from quantitative assessments to more qualitative assessments to really begin to measure how people are making a difference in the community. For me that’s the major thing. So, if we get back to what would help people get a job, I can tell you what I’m looking for. Yeah, you need some papers to get on people’s radar screen. If you have finished your PhD and you don’t have any papers then that’s a red flag. But what you really need, in my mind, is to be known for something. That people look at you and say okay that person has done X, or that person has accomplished Y. So, the number of papers that you’ve written become less important. So, what I’m looking for is what have you done to make a difference in the community. And that’s what a lot of other people are beginning to look for more.

I’m curious to know more about this. How would this qualitative assessment process work, to assess the impact of a person on hydrological sciences or even the broader geosciences?

You should read the Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), which I also referred to in our 2017 editorial paper. DORA comes up with a set of guidelines for funding agencies, universities, managers, etc. to show how they can move towards research assessment practices that are more fair. It has been picked up by a lot of different institutions and universities. A lot of it is there. It’s more just changing the structure of the research assessment. You know there’s not going to be one size fits all template that people can use, but structuring it in a way that emphasises the contributions rather than the specific papers. It takes more work, but we should value our colleagues and take the time to really make sure people’s efforts are directed in productive ways.

 

Note from the EGU HS Blog Editorial team: In the past EGU 2019 GA in Vienna, EGU organized a debate on “Rewards and recognition in science: what value should we place on contributions that cannot be easily measured”, where DORA was also debated, among others. 

Guest author Sina Khatami is a PhD student at the University of Melbourne (Australia). He is interested in hydrological modelling, uncertainty, and philosophy of science. In his PhD project, he developed a process-based model evaluation method, called Flux Mapping, to gain insights into the internal dynamics of conceptual models. He is also the current Secretary of Young Hydrologic Society and a student member of AGU’s Hydrology Section Hydrological Uncertainty Technical Committee.

Edited by Matthias Sprenger and Maria-Helena Ramos

Quality through Equality – tackling gender issues in hydrology

Quality through Equality – tackling gender issues in hydrology

Quality through Equality – tackling gender issues in hydrology

Results of a 1-day workshop organised by the University of Bristol’s Water Engineering Group

“Science has a diversity problem” (Nature, 2019), and hydrology and the water sciences are no exception. For example, overall only 36% of all EGU medal awardees are female. With 31% of all nominations going to female researchers (Karatekin, 2019), this points more towards that there is not a bias in the awarding process but a gender imbalance at later career stages.

The Water Engineering Group at the University of Bristol organised a 1-day UK-wide workshop to discuss issues related to gender equality in the field of hydrology. The aim of the workshop was to raise awareness of unconscious biases, to offer role models, and to discuss ideas on how to make the hydrologic community more diverse. Although the focus of the workshop was on gender diversity, most things we have learned apply equally well to issues related to misrepresentation of ethnic minorities or disabled scientists.

This blog post presents the outcomes of the workshop, what we have learned and what has changed since.

We were very happy that three accomplished hydrologists and role models joined us as speakers for the workshop: Prof Elena Toth (University of Bologna), Prof Hannah Cloke (University of Reading) and Dr Joshua Larsen (University of Birmingham).

Elena Toth presented efforts by the EGU to encourage more diversity at their conferences and awards. Elena also stressed the importance of diversity (gender, nationality, ethnicity, ability, etc.) in award nominations and the role of the community with this regard. She also mentioned the missing data on gender ratios as one of the main challenges addressing potential lack of diversity of invited speakers and selected oral presentations. Due to data protection rules, the EGU does not record the gender of registered attendees, but instead relies on a voluntary survey after the abstract submission, which is not fully representative (13% answered).

In addition to her experience with the EGU, Elena shared some personal experiences about her career and the challenge of combining family and academia. She shared this challenge with the two other speakers. All of them agreed that combining academia and raising a family is possible, because academia offers one of the most flexible work environments. However, this flexibility does need a supportive stance from the university (flexitime working hours, childcare facilities, flexible childcare support for conferences) and supportive colleagues.

The afternoon included an unconscious bias and bystander training by Prof Havi Carel from University of Bristol. Many attendees found the training very informative and felt more able to react in future situations where they might encounter bias.

The second part of the afternoon was made up by group discussions about how academia can become more diverse and how we can create an enjoyable and inclusive academic environment. Some of the topics we discussed were:

  • What is success in academia?
    The definition of success can vary from person to person, e.g. publishing high quality material or having a good work-family-life balance. The important thing is that head of department, supervisors, and colleagues accept and nurture this diversity.
  • What is the role of role models?
    Role models can be vital in shaping career pathways as they can start or change career aspirations. Role models should be relatable (by gender, ethnicity, etc.) and if they do not exist it is the duty of the community to develop them.
  • What can leadership do to help?
    Childcare facilities and funding both at home institutions and conferences are important. The EGU should provide more funding opportunities, especially for early-career scientists who are from developing countries, so that more research and participant diversity is present at conferences.
  • What can senior and peer colleagues do?
    Regular exchange both with peers and with senior colleagues can address problems such as experienced exclusion/discrimination early on, and if addressed, it can provide a more inclusive environment.

The feedback we received from the day was overwhelmingly positive, both in personal and written feedback. The discussions about the topics and the opportunity to share experiences with others were named as the highlights of the workshop.

Some changes are already happening as a result of the workshop. For example, our research group is diversifying social activities to be more inclusive, and both the British Hydrological Society as well as the Young Hydrologic Society have appointed EDI (Equality, Diversity & Inclusion) champions now! With one third of the 44 attendees being male, the workshop demonstrated that not just women are interested to learn about biases and to discuss their experiences.

We thank the GW4 Water Security Alliance, the Cabot Institute and the School of Engineering at the University of Bristol for funding this event. A big thank you to Elena Toth, Joshua Larsen, Hannah Cloke and Havi Carel, and to all attendees for creating an inclusive and productive atmosphere.

Further resources:

Edited by Matthias Sprenger

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The guest authors Lina Stein (left) and Melike Kiraz (right) are both PhD students in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Bristol, and part of the organization team of the workshop ‘Quality through equality – tackling gender issues in hydrology’.

EGU is a bit like a music festival: first time experience of an ECS in hydrology

EGU is a bit like a music festival: first time experience of an ECS in hydrology

EGU is a bit like a music festival. Maybe not as crowded as the Donauinselfest, but you’ll definitively experience some of this type of event classic features: dilly-dallying a lot about what to see next, losing your friends and setting up more or less detailed meeting points, buying overpriced food and beverages. And if in the right place at the right time, you might even see some actual “rock stars”!

Me and my Mentor!

EGU is a lot of people and a lot of contents squeezed into one week! Now it can be quite unsettling for newcomers, but here’s some points to demystify the beast.

Despite the ants-like flow in the hallways, EGU recovers human dimensions during each oral session, with an average attendance of about 40 people for what I could experience. It’s something to have in mind when getting nervous about your own scheduled presentation if there’s any.

Half of people is like you, meaning young scientists, eager to share and help each other. And fortunately, the other half is just the same, with more experience and possibly less hair that’s all. Communicating is very easy at EGU, with all kind of researchers (age-wise, country-wise, topic-wise). That’s probably the main purpose of it and the main reason you should come.

There’s also a bunch of events and special groups intended for facilitating new scientists’ integration: Sunday evening Ice-breaker, Early Career Scientists lounge, short courses and workshops and social evening events, etc. In particular, when registering for the EGU General Assembly, you’ll be asked if you want to be part of a Mentoring program. Say yes and you’ll be put in touch with a more experienced participant that’ll give you further advice and with whom you can meet easily throughout the week. I experienced this mentoring to be a good way to get comfortable in the unfamiliar terrain of such a big conference!

Now, how to make the most of this week you may wonder. Well there is no right answer to that I suppose, but here’s some input.

Red poster hall – the heart of hydrology during the EGU week.

Quoting approximately the EGU’s president introduction speech, go beyond your own field of research. It would be a shame to spend a whole week focusing on what you’re working the rest of the year anyway, when so much is at hand. As for myself (doing a PhD on computational methods in hydrogeology), I attended sessions about surface water quality, erosion processes, ecology, geothermal resources, or science-politics linkage (this last inspired me some thought that I’ll may be able to share with you later). At some point lost in the program and venue, I even stumble about a speech about hyper arid environments, where I heard that some place in Chile receive less than 1 mm of precipitation a year… things you learn when you get lost!

And to conclude, you might feel obligated to spend 10 hours a day in the Vienna International Center, with regard to the plethoric program. Well I do think that it should be judged by your own ability to concentrate and digest information in a little amount of time. As far as I’m concerned, I chose not to fully book every day with session, sparing some time to rest, wander and visit! Mind that Vienna is a key European historical and cultural center: the apogee of classical and romantic music genres, one of the birthplaces of modernism in painting and architecture, a land of authors and philosophers to be discovered.

Edited by Matthias Sprenger

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Guest author Dimitri Rambourg attended this year’s EGU General Assembly the first time and he shares his impression. He is a PhD student at Laboratoire d’Hydrologie et de Géochimie de Strasbourg (LHYGES) in France.