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Podcast: 5 minutes with Penny How

13 March 2023

In this episode of 5 Minutes With, Marissa Lo (Assistant Editor) chats to Dr Penny How, a data scientist working for the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland.

Dr Penny How, data scientist for the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (image credit: Penny How).


Episode Transcript

[00:10] Marissa Lo: Hello and welcome to Five Minutes With, a podcast by Geoscientist magazine. My name is Marissa Lo, and today I’m joined by Dr. Penny How from the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland. So, thank you for joining us, Penny, can you tell us what you’re currently working on?

[00:25] Penny How: Hi, I am a data scientist. I work in the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland for the Department of Glaciology and Climate, and I am currently working on developing processing workflows for near real time weather observation data sets. This is from a network of weather stations that we run across the Greenland ice sheet. It’s not just, like, your typical weather observations, like, wind speed and air pressure and temperature, but it’s also glaciological properties of the ice as well, so albedo and also the heat transfers between the ice and the atmosphere. We have over 30 weather stations across the ice sheet, and these range from those on the periphery of the ice sheet, all the way to the interior of the ice sheet. Our weather station monitoring network is under two programs: one is called PROMICE, which stands for the Program for Monitoring of the Greenland Ice Sheet, and the other is called the Greenland Climate Network. Our workflow and our data products are primarily used by individuals in the glaciology community, so researchers who want to use our data sets and compare it to their observations. It’s working towards the bigger goal that our weather station observations, they are currently primarily used by scientists and the research community, but what we want is for our observations to go further and to be used in national and international weather forecasting models.

[02:00] Marissa Lo: Tell us more about how you got involved with the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland.

[02:04] Penny How: I did my bachelor’s and master’s, and through that I learnt that I really liked independent research. From there I went to do a PhD, and, within my PhD, I started to really enjoy programming. I predominantly program in a very open-source language called Python, and through that I developed a lot of skills in developing workflows and software for handling research datasets primarily to do with the cryospheric sciences, so looking at glacier datasets from in situ observations or from remote sensing data sets, so this is imagery from satellites.

[02:46] Marissa Lo: So what’s a typical day for you at the moment?

[02:49] Penny How: It can really range from a lot of different things. It can be, like, today, I’ve had just meeting after meeting of coordinating and discussing where our processing and our data products will go next. But then it can also be a lot of programming and improving how we are processing our weather station data. But then on the other side, it can be field work as well. This involves going and visiting our weather station network over the ice sheet and going and maintaining them or putting up new stations.

[03:23] Marissa Lo: What’s your favourite thing about your job?

[03:25] Penny How: I think the favourite thing about my day is the diversity and the range of the tasks that you do. One day I can be programming, and the next day I can be on the ice sheet or be on a helicopter in the fjord. It can be a whole range of things that comes under this title of data scientist. One of the things that I really like about what I’m doing at the moment is that it challenges me, and I am constantly learning. After I had done my studies, you always have this, kind of, preconceived idea that you’ve done all of your learning there and you go and apply it. But, in this case, I think my studies just helped me build the tools so that I could learn more in my job. Coming from someone who has quite a short attention span, it’s perfect because there are so many different aspects and so many different avenues that you can explore to continue developing and challenging yourself.

[04:18] Marissa Lo: What advice would you give to someone hoping to work in your field?

[04:21] Penny How: I think the best advice I can give to someone is to be kind to yourself, first and foremost. Obviously, doing a PhD or doing, like, a research position is not the only avenue that you can go down to enter into data science, but that’s the route that I went down. And I think during my PhD, I really struggled. That was partly because of things beyond my control, but there were also things within that that I could control, like preserving and safeguarding myself and my mental health. Don’t make your choice to be in this field all consuming, there needs to be balance. I could say something more about the work ethic or, like, some direct advice about entering into glaciology or geology or to data science, but I think that’s the biggest one, for me, is just be kind to yourself.

[05:21] Marissa Lo: I think that’s amazing advice and applies to every different field, no matter what you’re doing your PhD in, no matter what career you want to do. Thank you. So thank you so much, Penny, for joining me today. That was a really insightful conversation.

[05:33] Penny How: Thank you.

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