Michelle's Blog

Who is Michelle?
Michelle is studying atmospheric science with a focus on wind energy. She hopes to find real-world solutions to environmental issues.


Michelle's College Blog

The Power of Friends
May 30, 2011

My advisor is currently interviewing as a candidate for head of my department. It's a long process, including discussions and questions from the graduate department. In an open question and answer session with the students, he brought up a really good point about how much of a support system students are for one another.

This came about after a question from one of my fellow classmates. Her advisor expects a lot out of students, and has them do so much work that they end up in the office well beyond the time frame that most grad students are there.

Situations like that create a bad environment for the students involved, but I do think that having a good group of friends helps. My classmate is able to deal with it by having friends in her office, as well as other grad students who are with the same advisor and who have to go through the same thing.

It is always good to have friends in your department or who are in similar situations because you need someone you can relate to. School and workloads can be really hard sometimes, and there isn't always an easy solution, so it is nice to have a good support group.

I have definitely had a good experience with having friends through undergrad and graduate school. My friends are fun to hang out with, as well as to study with or to help troubleshoot problems. Most advisors are very helpful and great to work with, which is the case with my advisor, but it's always nice to have connections with other people who can relate to you on a different level.

Summer at Last
May 24, 2011

It's officially summer, and this summer things are different for me than they have been in the past. This summer, I am not taking any classes or teaching any labs. Instead I am a full-time research assistant. My work involves computer modeling of atmospheric simulations and programming.

As I have mentioned before, my research is on extra-tropical cyclones (cold core, low-pressure systems) that affect Western Europe and the British Isles. The North Atlantic is heavily populated with these types of storms, which can cause damaging windstorms. A research institute that works for a reinsurance agency funds my research.

My research will involve looking at these storms, simulating the conditions, and then trying to simulate possible climate change conditions and observing how the storms will change in intensity, population and storm track.

The research in general is really exciting to me. It allows me to use my meteorology background to look into current and future issues.

Another great thing about research is conferences. Conferences are often really great ways to learn about what other people are doing in your field, as well as a chance to present your own research.

I just found out about a conference at the end of September that I hope to attend if it is within the budget. It is a conference by the research institute that is funding me, and the location is Bermuda. That is definitely the most exciting location I have ever been invited to for a conference. The conference is held there because that is where most of the reinsurance agencies that I am involved with are located, and they will be attending the conference.

I have a lot of work to do to prepare my research for this conference, and I'm really excited about the experience.

College Housing
May 16, 2011

I just moved into a new place that is a lot closer to campus. My last place was a little bit of a drive, so when the lease was up, I moved within a couple miles of school. There are also buses that stop nearby, so that was a big deal to me. I have an older car which isn't very reliable, so I needed a backup plan to get to school. This week, my car wouldn't start. Luckily, it was the weekend, so I didn't have anywhere urgent to go, so I had it jump started when my friend was free.

A lot of colleges have students live in dorms their first year, which is what I did for my freshman year. The college I went to wouldn't allow you to have a car, but you could walk everywhere on campus, so you didn't need one. Don't get me wrong: having a car is great, but it is always good to have a back-up plan.

If you ever live off-campus, there are usually many apartments which are within walking distance or on a bus line. These apartments usually cater to students, so you can usually find a few good deals. My school has booklets that also include apartments around Raleigh to make the search a little easier. I found out about my new place from a friend, and so far it is working out great.

When you look for a place, it is always good to ask around to find out what places are good. Usually places around campus have a lot of students, so you can often find out the good spots from word of mouth!

Exam Time
May 9, 2011

As I mentioned before, it's exam time, so I've been pretty tied up with studying and preparing my final project. For my final project, I have done all of the analysis I needed to do. Now I have to put together my PowerPoint and make sure the timing is right.

We are allotted exactly 10 minutes to talk, and the timing will be very strict. This is because we have a relatively large class and going over 10 minutes would create an extremely long period of presentations.

Sometimes it is hard to get what you want to say in words, so I know I will have to practice a lot to get the timing and points worked out. I still have one more final exam that I have to take, so I'm splitting my time right now between studying and preparing for my presentation.

Hope you all have a great week and good luck with any projects or exams you all might have.

Learning New Skills
May 2, 2011

We just finished our last week of classes, so it is finals time once again! I have my first exam this coming Thursday, and it is definitely going to be my hardest exam, so the sooner I start studying, the better. I also have a big project coming up that I need to finish.

The project I am doing is on wind gusts and damage over Western Europe due to extra-tropical cyclones. These are low-pressure systems that typically occur in the winter and cause damage through extreme winds and precipitation. I worked on this project using the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model.

This semester was my first time running and using the WRF model. It was really tough in the beginning because I had to learn a lot of new things. In the end, I think this class project and the course in general was the most helpful for me this semester. Learning to use new tools, especially computer tools, is very important for research and for eventually finding a job.

Some of the best advice I have been given during my college career was to look at job listings and see which skills the jobs you want require. When you look at this, it gives you time to develop skills that would likely land you a similar job when it comes time to start looking for jobs.

In my area of interest, atmospheric modeling and computer programming are heavily listed as desired skills for the jobs I am interested in. I already had some computer programming experience, but hadn't previously had any modeling experience. This semester has really helped me in getting started with that type of skill. I still have about a year and a half to go for my master's degree, and a lot to learn, but this has definitely given me a head start in preparing for the future.

The sooner you can prepare yourself, the more comfortable you become with the skills you are trying to master. In the beginning, most things do not come easily, so it is nice to take it slow and learn without feeling too pressured by time constraints. As I said, I still have a lot to learn, but getting an early start will really help me to learn more and minimize any stress during the process.