This question comes up and again for quite a number of us. I am a mechanical science technician, a computer science engineer (with a tendency for robotics), turned into an industrial engineering PhD, working with agricultural systems and now climate, in Africa. You can only imagine how many times I wondered: “How did I get here?” But strangely, I never regretted it, and have ended up in a seat where there are obviously only a few people with similar skills. NOTE: This is a lonely seat more often than you probably imagine, but … what a scientific bliss! What I like about research is to do something that nobody else has done before; no map, no guidelines, no guaranty that you are going to make it, and even if you do, only (very) limited impact on our plan to change the world (only a step away from pinky and the brain every night). But I loooove it, and thanks to a wide community of people who are crazy about doing new things, from the aggregation of those seemingly little achievements, can emerge great concrete advances.
Obviously I am not grown up enough to talk about these great concrete advances, but of another “How did I get here?”
I find myself putting one finger into “detection and attribution”. How weird it can sound so far, it is quite exciiiiting. IPCC glossary, usually not a bad place to look for a layman definition, says: “Detection and attribution: Climate varies continually on all time scales. Detection of climate change is the process of demonstrating that climate has changed in some defined statistical sense, without providing a reason for that change. Attribution of causes of climate change is the process of establishing the most likely causes for the detected change with some defined level of confidence.”
Although I am putting my finger in, I keep my feet grounded in computer sciences, most of my weight in agricultural systems, my shoulders in climate change, with a more and more focused gaze over traditional African farming communities. For me, the IPCC definition translates into: Look for an unexpected agricultural behavior in Africa, and (try to) determine its causes. This is a small step, remember, I said “finger” not “arm”. Here is a new challenge and opportunity, looking into the causes of (climate impacted) agricultural system deviance from expected behavior. Just imagine a TV commentator who would actually have grounds to say that this year’s crop failure is partly due to anthropogenic emissions. Let’s be honest, my work is unlikely going to be sufficient for that, but in reference to my first paragraph, let’s make sure it fills its little bit of space and contributes to something bigger, in Africa.
Obviously this kind of split requires some funding, so thank you Oxford University. And cherry on the cake, I got to work with world class attribution athletes for 3 months at the Environmental Change Institute, Oxford University! Let’s roll and we’ll see how it looks from there.