New Honorary Members of the AMS: Robert Dickinson

February 5, 2014 · 0 comments

Xubin Zeng (Univ. of Arizona) and Peter Lamb (Univ. of Oklahoma) congratulated Robert Dickinson, Brian Hoskins, and Qingcun Zeng for joining them in the ranks of AMS Fellows by asking a few questions by email. Here is the interview with Dr. Dickinson:

How did you decide to choose atmospheric science or a related field as your profession?

When I was a teenager my interests were broad so my interest in science only developed through science courses I took at Exeter and Harvard, and I ended up my undergraduate career with a double major (chemistry and physics). I went into a meteorology program at MIT as a graduate student because I wanted a career more tied to nature. Unfortunately, I stumbled into doing theoretical studies that gave me little opportunity for the field work I had imagined. However, I had no end of opportunities to work on questions of great interest to me which kept me motivated to this day to continue in atmospheric science related research.

Who influenced you most in your professional life?

This is a difficult question as I am grateful to so many people who influenced my professional career. It would be easier to name “the hundred most”. However, in narrowing it down to one, I have to pick my thesis advisor Victor Starr, since his broad interests and approach to scientific research, as a generally enjoyable and relaxing activity, using theoretical reasoning and observations to reveal and interpret basic physical processes, was conveyed to me at a very impressionable age and so had a strong impact on all my future work.

Which accomplishments are you most proud of in your professional life?

I spent much of my career at NCAR, doing many things, and in the early seventies worked with Steve Schneider and others to develop an NCAR climate research initiative, and evolve many of the concepts used today involving climate forcing and feedbacks. That led me a few years later to my learning how to use General Circulation models and to a recognition that their land part was their weakest component, given its overall importance in the system. My consequent efforts to make a better such component model forced me to learn all I could learn about vegetation and leaves. To do this forced me to borrow concepts from many people and learn the need for extensive interdisciplinary activity to be able to make meaningful progress on such a model.

What are your major pieces of advice to young scientists in our field?

Making successful progress in research requires a lot of long hours and hard work so it must be fun for you to put in the effort needed.

Your work will have a much bigger impact if communicated and recognized by many people. You need to write effective papers and to give good oral presentations to have such impact and recognition.

What are your perspectives for future direction of our field?

I think young scientists are better able to answer this than I, so I only suggest a framework: the most important future directions will involve some combination of advancing basic science, responding to societal needs, and employing new technologies. I think at least two of these characteristics are needed for a future direction to be important.