My experiences as a graduate student in the Atmospheric Sciences Department at UCLA.
by Hanne V. Murphey
Graduate Student (2001 current)
To inform students about life as a graduate student in our department, as well as a look at what type of research we do in the Mesoscale Group.
I was born in Denmark and moved to the United States when I was 18 years old. I worked for a while after arriving here, but eventually decided that I needed to return to school and get an education. I completed my bachelor’s degree in Physics and Atmospheric Sciences here at UCLA in 2001 and started graduate school the following fall. The decision to come to UCLA was not hard for me. Since I was an undergraduate here, I knew the program, professors and staff, whom were all wonderful. The classes were great and I was never met by a closed door, when I needed help with homework or some advise. I was certain that graduate school in the department would be a similar experience. Also, before I even started UCLA, I had a deep interest in potentially studying severe weather, so while I was still an undergraduate student, I had the fortunate opportunity to start working on a project analyzing a severe thunderstorm case working with Dr. Roger Wakimoto. I absolutely loved it, so when the time came to start looking at prospective graduate school, I knew what type of research I wanted to do. After checking out my other choices, I decided that UCLA was the best choice for me.
About Los Angeles, UCLA and the department:
I enjoy living in Los Angeles where there are literally endless things to do. The beach is near campus and the mountains are only a couple of hours away. This makes for a great place to do outdoor activities since the weather is nice for the most part. UCLA campus is beautiful and it is a great school, with many good departments. This was another reason why I chose to stay at UCLA, I liked the fact that I could attend classes in the mathematic or physics departments if I wanted to, and be confident that I would receive first class lectures. UCLA is located in Westwood, which is a nice, but relatively expensive area with lots of restaurants and shops in walking distance to campus. I personally live far from campus and commute in to school every day. Traffic in LA is always bad during rush hour, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that we do have public transportation that can take you to campus at almost any time of the day for very little money. Most graduate students live some distance from campus, mainly because rent in the surrounding neighborhoods is very expensive.
As I mentioned above, as an undergraduate student I realized that this department is great. The faculty is involved in a wide area of research, which makes the education we receive well rounded and unique in the sense that we are not “narrowly-focused” on only one topic. The core curriculum is challenging, but a good solid foundation on which to built a career. Some students slowly start doing some basic research during their first year at UCLA. However, the amount varies depending on the individual advisors. Finally, we have a really good group of students. We are from all over the world and therefore have great diversity. It is never hard to find somebody to help you with homework or give you advise if you need to choose an advisor. We also have a graduate student group (XEP), which sponsors a couple of events each year. The XEP website ( www.atmos.ucla.edu/~xep ) is another source of information about the department, UCLA and Los Angeles.
About the Mesoscale group:
The Mesoscale group in our department consists of two professors, Dr. Roger Wakimoto and Dr. Robert Fovell, as well as their students and postgraduates. Mesoscale meteorology is the branch of meteorology that focuses on the “middle-sized” phenomena, such as:
2. Squall lines (lines of thunderstorms) and Bow-Echoes
3. Dry lines
5. Sea Breezes
Students in the group have worked on all of the above listed topics and yet there is an almost unlimited amount of research still to be done. Students have used a variety of real data to study the phenomena or run models in order to simulate the thermodynamic and kinematic structure of the features under investigation. There is a good balance between the two professors, since Roger’s group primarily does observations, while Rob’s group focuses on modeling studies. I work for Roger and I am currently working on data collected during a field project named IHOP (International H20 project ( www.atd.ucar.edu/rft/projects/ihop_2002/index.html )), which took place during May and June of 2002 over the central United States. The main objective of the project was to get a better understanding of the water vapor distribution in the atmosphere. Our objective was to gain a better understanding of convection initiation along convergence boundaries such as fronts, dry lines and outflow boundaries from previous storms. We flew in a Navy research aircraft, which had a radar and a lidar on board. The radar data enables us to look at the amount of precipitation associated with the storms, but we can also see structures in what we refer to as “clear air” and it also allows us to reconstruct the three dimensional wind field. I have attached a journal article that was a collaboration between Roger, Rob and myself. Using real data collected in the field, we modeled the early stages of the storms in an attempt to get a better understanding of the underlying processes.
I have also worked on two different supercells (severe thunderstorms) and last summer we completed another field project called BAMEX ( http://box.mmm.ucar.edu/bamex/science.html ). We spent two months in St. Louis “chasing” severe nocturnal squall lines. I can say without any difficulty that staying at UCLA working for Roger was the right decision for me. I have no regrets about staying in LA, because I love what I do. The datasets available to Roger’s students are simply incredible. Every student is given an interesting and unique dataset and Roger is always available to help you and answer questions. I do not work directly with Rob, but my class experience with him has been wonderful, as have my interactions outside the classroom, and speaking with his students, they all are happy and enjoy their work.
Life After UCLA:
It is my experience that students who leave the program at UCLA are well equipped to take on the real world. Many students pursue research careers at various research labs, such at NCAR in Colorado or JPL in Pasadena, California. Others find faculty positions at well-respected universities around the world. Finally, some students enter the private industries, where there is a lot of work for atmospheric scientists. UCLA offers a solid program, which has a reputation for producing highly successful students. I hope to see you here at UCLA. If you need more information, please do not hesitate to contact me at email@example.com.