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Weather and Society Watch
Program Highlights

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After WAS*IS Ecstasy, the Laundry: One Atmospheric Scientist's Experience
by Andrea Schumacher*

In July 2007, I attended the Weather and Society*Integrated Studies (WAS*IS) workshop in Boulder, Colo. Being an atmospheric scientist by training and trade, WAS*IS provided me with the exciting opportunity to learn about interdisciplinary research being done in the areas of weather, climate, societal impacts, and emergency response. WAS*IS also introduced me to a community of researchers and practitioners from various disciplines, opening the door for future collaborations.

As I returned to my job as an atmospheric researcher, though, I realized that incorporating the WAS*IS ideology into my current research on the prediction of hurricane formation and intensity change would be a slow and daunting task. I feel as though I have a dual professional life, and from my understanding, this is not an uncommon experience after WAS*IS.

Many atmospheric graduate programs and research facilities are not set up to accommodate interdisciplinary research, and those interested in incorporating societal impacts research must forge their own paths. So, in collaboration with two fellow WAS*IS participants, I began to work on a "side" project related to the human dimensions of hurricanes.

We generated a set of research questions related to the resource utilization and response of professional pet care providers during natural disasters. We then developed a research project proposal to address these questions that has since been approved by the Natural Hazards Center Quick Response program at the University of Colorado.

While drafting our Quick Response proposal, I encountered numerous obstacles related to working within a system not set up for interdisciplinary research. I will now share some of the lessons I've learned from this process with the hope that they will help other atmospheric scientists navigate the realm of social science research.

Identify and recruit champions

Identifying individuals who supported our interdisciplinary research idea was a crucial step. I found champions within my home institution, in my parent university's sociology department, and through connections with the WAS*IS community. By first identifying the colleagues most likely to support my research topic and gaining their insight and approval, I was better prepared to gain support from more reluctant colleagues and supervisors.

Know your institution's Institutional Review Board (IRB) process, inside and out

If your project will involve human subjects in any way, you may need formal approval from your IRB office. This may, as in my case, require IRB training through an online course or onsite class before your application can be considered. My IRB office had never worked with an atmospheric scientist. This required more diligence on my part in properly explaining my needs and understanding the requirements I had to fulfill. This lack of an established relationship, which may exist at many institutions, makes the IRB approval process more time consuming. However, it also provides an opportunity for establishing a good relationship that will help you and others in your field in the future.

Understand your institution's grants and awards policies

Funding types and sources available for social science research may differ from those your grants and awards office is used to dealing with. For example, the Quick Response grant we applied for does not compensate salary or overhead, which limited the amount of administrative support I could receive for preparing the grant proposal. As with any new project, it is especially important to work closely with your grants office to avoid possible delays.

Do not give up

Working on projects outside your area of expertise can be overwhelming at times. Procedural obstacles are discouraging, and seemingly simple matters such as finding background literature and funding from unfamiliar sources can be daunting tasks. From my own experience, those in the atmospheric research field may find it particularly difficult to get involved in societal impacts and hazards research. This difficulty stems from the obstacles I've outlined above as well as a general inexperience with social science research methodology. This is a shame, since many atmospheric researchers got into the field with the goal of helping society and have a great deal to contribute to this interdisciplinary research area.

It is my hope that more atmospheric scientists with the desire to contribute to societal impacts research will get involved with the ever-growing community of scientists, practitioners and stakeholders interested in interdisciplinary weather and climate research and take the initiative to develop and act on their own research ideas.


*Andrea (schumacher@cira.colostate.edu) is a research associate at the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere (CIRA). Please visit the WAS*IS Web site at http://www.sip.ucar.edu/wasis for more information.


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