Dr. Kristen Lani Rasmussen is Assistant Professor in the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University. Kristen received her bachelor’s degree in meteorology and mathematics as well as music from the University of Miami. She then attended the University of Washington where she was awarded her M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Atmospheric Sciences. Afterwards, Kristen conducted postdoctoral research at the National Center for Atmospheric Research before joining the faculty at Colorado State University. She has received a number of awards and honors in her career, including the Peter B. Wagner Memorial Award for Women in Atmospheric Science from the Desert Research Institute, the College of the Environment Outstanding Community Impact Award from the University of Washington, and the Very Early Career Award from the American Meteorological Society’s Mesoscale Processes Conference. In addition, she was recently awarded the Graduate Mentoring and Advising Award from Colorado State University as well as the George T. Abell Outstanding Early Career Faculty Award from the College of Engineering at Colorado State University. In our interview, Kristen tells us more about her life and science.
People Behind the Science Podcast Show Notes
Life Outside of Science (2:37)
In addition to spending quality time with her fantastic family, Kristen enjoys playing jazz trumpet. She has played jazz and bluegrass music with various bands in Colorado.
The Scientific Side (3:44)
Research in Kristen’s lab focuses on studying extreme events, particularly weather events such as heavy rainfall, thunderstorms, hail storms, and other events that have a big impact on humans and society. She is interested in examining these extreme event systems in the context of our current climate and how they may change in the future.
A Dose of Motivation (4:24)
Kristen has an intense work ethic, and she is motivated by Malcolm Gladwell’s idea that you need to deliberately practice skills for about 10,000 hours to become an expert and be successful.
What Got You Hooked on Science? (6:34)
A passion for weather research was passed down to Kristen from her father. He studied winter weather in Colorado and absolutely loved his career. Kristen remembers jumping in the car with her dad every time there was a blizzard to go collect data on the snow at his field site. As an undergraduate student, Kristen participated in a large field campaign in which they studied clouds in the Caribbean. While launching weather balloons in the middle of the night on a boat out in the middle of the Caribbean, Kristen realized that she loved being in the field doing research. This passion for research compelled her to apply to graduate school, and it continues to drive her in the work she does today.
The Low Points: Failures and Challenges (16:37)
In her first year of graduate school, Kristen struggled to transition to the new way of thinking that was needed to be a successful graduate student. In her earlier years of school, there was always a known answer that she and her classmates had to find. Now, she was faced with a situation where she had a question, she and her adviser didn’t have an answer, and they didn’t know if they would ever have an answer. However, Kristen was expected to make meaningful progress towards answering the question. She approached her advisor a few times with different data analyses, and each time, he would ask her what was the point. What question was she answering with these data? After one of these sessions, Kristen returned to her desk and realized she had been thinking about the process of science all wrong. After re-framing her thinking, she started to make progress on her project.
A Shining Success! (19:53)
When Kristen was a postdoctoral fellow, she decided to shift the focus of her research to apply the skills she learned in graduate school to a different topic. She wanted to investigate how convective storms of varying strengths may change in a future climate. This involved applying her cloud dynamics expertise to the field of climate change. The paper she published on this work has been very important and garnered a lot of attention in the field. Originally, Kristen viewed this as a side project she was pursuing to broaden the scope of her research, but it has evolved into an entirely new line of research that she continues to pursue in her lab today.
Another exciting success occurred during Kristen’s field work in Argentina. One of their main goals was to observe and collect measurements on a very large mesoscale convective system during their field campaign. They were nearing the final few days of their trip, and they still had not observed this weather event. Then, on the second to the last day, there was a large storm system developing in the region, and they were able to place their instruments to capture exactly what they needed to observe. The whole research team was nervous about whether that particular type of storm would occur and whether they would be able to collect all of their measurements, but it turned out to be a huge success for them.
Book Recommendations (23:36)
The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide To Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job by Karen Kelsky , Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck
Most Treasured Travel (25:43)
Argentina has been Kristen’s favorite place that her science has taken her. She studied severe storms in the foothills of the Andes mountains remotely using satellite data for about 10 years before she was able to see these storms firsthand in the field in Argentina. It was so exciting to be there to witness these storms, but it was also amazing to interact with the local people who regularly experience this extreme wether. Kristen participated in outreach events for local K-12 students in Argentina to talk about the weather they were studying and help the students appreciate the remarkable magnitude of these weather events.
Quirky Traditions and Funny Memories (30:32)
Music has been an important part of Kristen’s life, and she even double majored in music and science in college. She has been surprised to find that many high level scientists are also great musicians. When she was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington, they had a tradition of having scientists in their department play music during their holiday party. They ended up having to cut out songs because they didn’t want the program to go longer than an hour, but there were so many musicians in the department who wanted to participate.
Advice For Us All (34:57)
Don’t stress too much about your career path. Take the best opportunity that is provided to you, and you never know what doors will open. Also, try to work with people who have your best interests in mind. Being a scientist is really exciting. You get to study things you never thought were possible, but there will certainly be ups and downs in your career. Build your perseverance, cultivate a strong work ethic, and you will be successful.
Kristen’s research interests include investigating the global population of convective storms using data from the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) and Global Precipitation (GPM) spaceborne precipitation radars, extreme deep convection in South America, flooding in Pakistan and India, cloud and mesoscale processes, high-impact weather, hydrometeorology, cloud-climate interactions, and convection-permitting regional climate modeling. Her graduate research primarily focused on cloud and mesoscale processes of high-impact weather in South America using the TRMM satellite and flooding in India and Pakistan. She has participated in field campaigns in the U.S. Great Plains, Caribbean, Maldives, Colorado, Argentina, and British Columbia to sample weather around the world.