Things I learned from leading the PCC

The 2017 Program on Climate Change Summer Institute on “Population Health and Climate Change” that took place at the beautiful UW Friday Harbor Laboratory last week gave me the opportunity to reflect on my tenure as Director of the Program on Climate Change that started in fall 2011. In fall of 2010 at the beginning of my last sabbatical, I joined an effort to build collaborations between the newly formed College of the Environment and the also young Department of Global Health to focus on global environmental change and human health. I was part of a group of Global Health and Environment Fellows who were focused on projects that improve both global health and the environment. This began my relationship with the Department of Global Health that in many ways shifted the emphasis of both my teaching and research. I traveled to both Bangladesh and Kenya with doctors dedicated to improving health for all people, visiting a clinic in western Kenya and a hospital in Dahka, Bangladesh, and having extensive discussions with local researchers who were grappling on the ground with current needs in their respective countries as well as the future challenges that climate change brings.

I took on leadership of the PCC in fall of 2011 at the end of my last sabbatical, and now 6 years on, I am starting another sabbatical. The seeds planted during my last sabbatical, and my experiences as Director of the PCC have allowed me to grow as both a scientist and as a person. However, what I am most proud of doesn’t have anything to do with research or strategic planning. I am proud of playing some role in fostering the respectful interdisciplinary culture in a campus community that is researching and teaching all aspects of climate.

An example is the Graduate Climate Conference, with the eleventh gathering taking place in November at MIT. UW graduate students involved in the PCC began the GCC, and since its inception, has focused on engaging students who study climate change across disciplines including social, natural resource, and natural science and engineering. From the first year, the organizers insisted that all who participate work to make their research understandable to the entire group of participants, and they modeled engagement in respectful conversations. With U.S. and international involvement, these graduate students are now the emerging leaders that are bringing this experience into leadership positions within climate change related research and practice. I have only played a very small role by helping the graduate students to navigate the UW proposal submission process to secure funding from the NSF, and yet I am very proud that the members of the PCC community continue to work hard to make the GCC successful.

I am excited that Professor Cecilia Bitz is taking over as leader of the Program on Climate Change. I know that she will bring the PCC to the next level whatever that may be.
She is an incredible scientist; she studies the ocean, sea-ice and the atmosphere using climate models. She has testified before congress, was a contributing author to several IPCC reports, is a recently elected member of the Washington State Academy of Sciences, and has served in many leadership roles nationally where she has helped to guide U.S. Climate Science. In addition, she is a friend and collaborator; together we created a graduate level class in climate change, and co-advised a student who is now on the faculty in both oceanography and atmospheric sciences (Kyle Armour).

I always tell people that the PCC Director position is the best administrative job on campus; we don’t have much money to catalyze big research programs or buy out teaching and we don’t control space. But somehow, as a community we accomplish a great deal through opportunities that invite faculty, staff, post-docs and graduate students to come together to grapple with understanding, predicting, and dealing with the consequences of climate change. While on sabbatical again this academic year, I plan to focus on thinking and writing about the ocean’s role in climate as well as to continue to engage in interdisciplinary discussions around the human impact of climate change. I will be in and out of Seattle most of the year, so feel free to suggest meeting up for coffee any time to talk about climate science, or almost anything else.

–Professor LuAnne Thompson, PCC Director 2011-2017
October 2017