by Mathilde Ritman
I first heard about CLEX’s Undergraduate Scholarships in Climate Extremes at the end of my first year of undergraduate study. I had approached one of my lecturers to thank them for their course. It was the first atmospheric science subject I had completed, and it was my favourite subject yet. They suggested that once I reached the final stages of my studies, I could apply for one of the Centre’s scholarships.

Instead, I, a somewhat over-eager second-year student, approached my next lecturer in atmospheric science. I said I had seen one of their projects on the Centre’s website and asked if I could apply for it to work with them. Unfortunately, they said the project in question had been taken. But they, instead, suggested that if I came up with a topic that interested me, they would submit a new project to the Centre, to which I could apply.

And so it was that I was awarded my first-ever research scholarship to pursue a foray into the dizzying world of climate research.

Our project concerned a particularly severe drought event, which occurred just out of reach of the Bureau’s instrumental weather record. The Centennial Drought of 1888 was short but very sharp, and I was tasked with determining just how bad it may have been. You can see the results of our historical sleuthing in the published paper: Ritman & Ashcroft, 2020 (wow!). The most surprising discovery I encountered, however, was that to do quantitative research, you need to write lots and lots of code.

I was a mid-second-year student falling for atmospheric science from a first year spent in geology, geography and Indigenous art. I had no idea that to do the research I was so interested in, I might actually have to study some maths and computing (oh no!) But while my scholarship had taught me that I needed these skills, it had also started me down the path of gaining them. My scholarship raised my coding skills from naught to a level where I could enjoy what I was writing (and understand it too). Plus, by throwing me into the deep end of a technical project, my scholarship gave me the confidence I didn’t know I needed to pursue a pathway into atmospheric science.

Over the following semesters, I mostly took subjects in mathematics and computing. I found I really loved the challenge these units offered and ended up extending my degree to complete the requirements for a second major in Applied Mathematics.

Throughout those final years of study, that over-eager student was equipped with an expanding arsenal of quantitative and technical skills. And she was unstoppable. I applied for all the science research opportunities I could find and ended up completing internships and research work with the University of Melbourne, the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO’s Data61.

And I’m not done yet. Next year, I look forward to completing my Honours Degree, and beyond that, I welcome all the different directions my early career may take. Knowing that – armed with the confidence to try new things and the ability to ask for what I want – I’ll get where I need to be.

I would like to whole-heartedly thank Linden Ashcroft, for being such an amazing first supervisor and friend. And would also like to thank all my atmospheric science lecturers at Melbourne University for their passion, kindness and time. I would love to encourage any student reading this to not be afraid to apply for opportunities that interest you and to ask your lecturers and mentors for help in doing so. Finally, thanks to the Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes, for offering us such a valuable opportunity.