Picture (above): The Mesa Laboratory of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, located atop Table Mesa at the west end of Boulder, Colorado. Credit: Copyright University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR). By Carlye Calvin, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) License, via OpenSky. 

by Todd Lane
In August I travelled to the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado USA for a short collaborative visit. As you probably know, NCAR is a partner in CLEX and one of the World’s leading research institutions in meteorology and climate science. Not only is NCAR the developer of the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model, which many in CLEX use, it houses many researchers who focus on topics that are highly relevant to the CLEX goals and activities. NCAR is also my former employer, having spent time there as a postdoc and then research scientist before my current position at The University of Melbourne. 

In addition to connecting with a CLEX partner and keeping in touch with cutting edge research, there were a number of specific reasons for my visit:

  • I have a few ongoing collaborations at NCAR, and despite the convenience of email and videoconferencing, I find in-person meetings to be invaluable for accelerating progress. Visiting also allows many informal discussions on ongoing and preliminary work, brainstorming discussions on new ideas, and those serendipitous interactions over lunch or in the corridor.
  • I have some new research results on convective organization that I’m in the process of writing up and was keen for robust feedback. Some of the scientists at NCAR developed the leading theories for organisation and I could think of no other audience more qualified to pick apart the ideas that I presented to them at a seminar.
  • NCAR is also close to Colorado State University (CSU), which is about an hour drive away in Fort Collins. I spent a day up at CSU meeting with collaborators on another ongoing project on convectively driven cold pools (and also gave a seminar). One of those collaborators is Dr Leah Grant, now a research associate at CSU. Leah visited Melbourne (and ARCCSS) as a student a few years ago – a visit that has led to ongoing research projects. 

In preparation for a visit like this, especially a short visit, I try to make the most of my time away. First and foremost, I try to clear my desk of any outstanding responsibilities and prepare my seminar before I leave. (Though, more often than not, I have a list of things to complete on the flight over). In my opinion, there’s not much use travelling to the other side of the world and then spending most of your time dealing with work from home (or preparing your seminar). I let people know I’m coming and set up meetings beforehand. I also write myself a short to-do list of what I want to achieve and what I specifically want to chat to people about. This list is particularly important if/when the jet lag hits and you need something to help regain your focus. 

When I was en route I realised it was almost exactly 20(!) years since my first ever visit to NCAR, when I spent a few weeks there as a student.

Looking back, that visit was an invaluable opportunity for me – by spending time there I was able to establish numerous new contacts (many I have now collaborated with). I’m certain that those connections helped me later secure my postdoctoral position, which itself formed an important foundation and stepping stone for my career.

In summary, visits to other research centres are invaluable for identifying and creating many new opportunities – regardless of your career stage. Within CLEX we are lucky to have funds available for such visits, especially for students and ECRs visiting CLEX partners. Make certain to fully utilise those opportunities.