Career Profile – Dr. Daniel Holdaway

Name: Dr. Daniel Holdaway

Current Role: (as at 2013): NASA Global Modeling and Assimilation Office.

PhD Subject and Graduation Year: Mathematics – 2011

What were your reasons for your career choice, including why you left, or stayed in, academia?

I wanted to continue my research into numerical weather and climate prediction. My current job is an academic government hybrid. It’s a research position with an emphasis on publishing work but without teaching. I enjoyed the academic environment but I left to take a great opportunity. In hindsight it was easier to find this kind of position than something academic, especially since I’d had limited teaching experience throughout my PhD.

How many jobs have you had since completing your PhD?


Could you briefly describe your career path?

After finishing undergraduate I enrolled in a Masters and then a PhD. My research field is numerical weather prediction and I worked closely with the Met Office throughout graduate school. After completing my PhD in 2010 I briefly worked as a postdoc at Exeter University, in partnership with a local company building a prototype wind turbine. The work concerned the use of computational fluid dynamics to determine the optimal position to place the wind turbine, based on local wind flow. A secondary goal was to model the wind stress on the turbine. In early 2011 I moved to Washington DC, USA and began working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. There I am attached to the data assimilation group and am working on the use of satellite observations of clouds and precipitation to improve weather predictions. Our goal is to improve the data assimilation system so that we can make use of state of the art satellites such as the upcoming Global Precipitation Measurement mission. These instruments will provide very detailed information about clouds but current limitations in weather models prevent their proper use.

What does your current job involve on a day to day basis (briefly)? Any highs and lows, skills needed and developed?

My day to day work is very similar to a PhD, except with a few more meetings! Most of my time is spent on my central project. For the most part I am left to my own devices and report to various advisors every 2 weeks or so, or when I am stuck with something. There are around 20 people working in our group and we support each other quite a lot. I spend around 15-20% of my time publishing work, preparing for conferences or preparing internal reports. As with any research project there are highs and lows when ideas either work or don’t work and you constantly need to learn to deal with this and get past it. I have had to learn a lot of skills related to running the weather model and scripting when using a super computer. These are not skills that I was able to develop during my PhD since it was theoretical but are skills many PhD students from the US come armed with. As a result it was quite a fast learning curve.

Do you have any key messages to current PhD students, particularly any looking for a career in your field?

Learn as much as you can when doing your PhD. Don’t get hung up on doing something ground-breaking, see it as a learning exercise. Most of my PhD didn’t work and it was very frustrating at times. But I made it through; got it written and now everyday I rely on techniques and skills that I learnt. When looking for jobs don’t be afraid to apply for anything! Often I feel organisations are just looking for smart people and will hire around the positions advertised and even create positions. They’re looking for someone that can learn something new quickly and independently.

Could you share any tips on effective CVs/Job applications/Interviews for entering your chosen career?

Google is your friend! You can also ask your PhD advisor or other more senior people in your department for help and examples of CVs. There are lots of differences between the CV you write for different jobs/fields so it can be hard to provide general help.

Do you know of any useful sources of information/vacancies for careers in your field?

Metjobs is a mailing list run from Reading University that’s very good. Also climlist in the USA. Mathjobs and are quite good if you’re looking for something academic. Another good one is Apply for general post doc programs, e.g the NASA post doc program. There are literally thousands of potential opportunities. And even if you don’t get it you might make a connection that helps you get something else, that’s how I got my job at NASA anyway.

Have you any general tips for successful career planning and/or career decision making?

I’ve never really say down and made a formal career plan and my plans certainly fluctuated throughout my PhD (probably because of choosing an impossible project!). I think with academia/research you have to be quite flexible. Never miss an opportunity to make connections. Go to conferences and introduce yourself to people who work in your field.