The week of the assembly

It’s not sexy and there are no tandem bikes, but the most significant thing that happened this week, for the first time, was work related.

My research position at URV is part of UERRA, an EU funded program that stands for Uncertainties in Ensembles of Regional ReAnalyses (acronyms are hilarious). Reanalyses are not the job that Tobias Fünke has from Arrested Development. They are basically a complete picture of the atmosphere based on the observations that are available and the physics that governs how weather behaves.  Reanalyses are the data used by meteorologists and climatologists all over the world. I’ve attempted to explain more about them here.

UERRA has been running for 12 months now, and the second general assembly was held in Tortosa this week. About 40 scientists from the UK, Germany, Sweden, Norway, France and elsewhere converged on the campus for two days of intense Powerpointing.

I’ve never really been involved in such a big project meeting before, and it was a daunting great way to learn where my work sits within the wider picture. It is the first step: to get as many data points as possible, ensure that they are not crap, and make them available in the right format. Next, several different organisations are going to make reanalyses for Europe, using lots of different models and estimated versions of the real world (there are heaps of ways to do this).

After that, another group will verify how good these reanalyses are, and assess the range of ‘virtual climates’ they have created. In other words, assess their uncertainties.  Finally, UERRA will prepare and deliver all of these new datasets their uncertainties to people who will use them, like other climate scientists, people working on renewable energy, agricultural organisations, policy makers, meteorologists, loads of people.

Scientists always seem to stick to their own tribes during these kinds of events, but it was motivating to meet the people I will be emailing over the next 12 months. The group was surprisingly diverse: a nice mix of men and women (including two female leaders, very inspiring) and a good combination of early, mid and senior career scientists. I was the only Southerner though!

There were some impassioned arguments about the real purpose of our work (to provide people with a product that will help them make good decisions for the planet) and I even spoke to a female scientist about how she balanced having two kids, moving countries twice and maintaining her career! These kinds of conversations are the stuff dreams are made of for a baby female climate scientist.

The longer I work here in Spain, and now that I have interacted with some other European scientists, the more I am in awe of how people manage to do great science in their second (or third) language. As narrow-minded as it is, English is the language of science. To make it in the industry you need to read, write and present in complex, technical English. And you need to do it well! Many people who have English as their first (or only) language can’t do this. I will never zone out of a thickly accented academic’s presentation again. Now, back to work.

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2 thoughts on “The week of the assembly

  1. I’ve often wondered if there’s a place for native english speakers to be professional scientific ghost writers. The actual non-native english speaker would get the ideas down and the ghost writer would make them sound as though they write english fluently.

    Kind of what like some journalists do for sports people, I guess. That is, make it sound like they write english well..

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    • That’s not a bad idea! I wonder if co-authors on international papers end up in this role by default. Scientific writing can be so complex sometimes that native English speakers can sometimes do a worse job than non-native speakers. My experience in helping my co-workers so far with English has just made us all more confused!

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