Debbie Clifford

Debbie CliffordI come from a family of engineers so it was always an option - the fact that I'm female never seemed at all relevant to my choice of career. I loved the combination of maths and physics, but also that engineering always remains grounded in the real world, in things that you can see and hold.

After graduating, I worked as a civil engineer for Whitbybird (now Ramboll UK). I decided I wanted to learn more about environmental science, intending to specialise in environmental engineering, so I went to Reading University to study for a Masters. I enjoyed the academic environment so much that I decided to stay; three years later I had a PhD on using satellite observations to understand the distribution of snow across the globe. Towards the end of my PhD I had the opportunity to present my work at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco, where I received an Outstanding Student Paper award which I am very proud of! I was also invited to speak at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre which was a fantastic experience.

I'm still at Reading now, based in the Department of Meteorology and working for the National Centre for Earth Observation. Meteorology may not seem like an obvious choice after studying engineering, but I suprise myself with how often I turn back to my undergraduate notes! Fluid dynamics for modelling the atmosphere, electrical systems for satellite design and remote sensing, control theory for 'data assimilation' (combining observed data with computer model output to produce our best estimate of the state of the atmosphere).... Perhaps most importantly my degree showed me how to analyse any system by applying the correct physics, boundary conditions and any appropriate simplifications, whether that system is a diesel engine, foundations for a skyscraper, a robotic arm, or, indeed, the environment.

One of my main projects at the moment is in collaboration with industry, developing services for monitoring greenhouse gas emissions that are underpinned by our expertise in observing and modelling the environment. I am also increasingly involved in informatics projects, looking at how we can explore and visualize the huge amounts of data that are generated by satellites and climate models. I'm also about to embark on my most ambitious project yet - my husband and I are expecting our first baby this year!