Interview – NASA – Patrick Taylor

Hey everyone! This week on Questions To Inspire, we have an amazing interview. We are going to talk with someone that works at the NASA Langley Research Center – Climate Research Scientist – Patrick Taylor!

Patrick Taylor atmospheric scientist photo by David C Bowman/NASA Langley

Good morning, Patrick.  Let’s start out with you telling us a little bit  about yourself.

I have worked for Langley Research Center in Hampton VA for thirty years now. It has been a great place to work and supported my education, from community college all the way to a PhD. For the last seven years, I have also taught for American Military University’s graduate space program. My name is Patrick Taylor and I am a Climate Research Scientist. I received my Ph. D. in Meteorology from Florida State University in 2009. My job entails designing and performing studies and experiments to better understand how our climate works so that humans can thrive on a changing planet.

Most of my work day is spent at my desk reading climate science papers written by other scientists, doing data analysis to test my own ideas, and then discuss the new ideas with my colleagues in the lab. My laboratory is called NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA and I have been here for 9 years.I have worked for Langley Research Center in Hampton VA for thirty years now. It has been a great place to work and supported my education, from community college all the way to a PhD. For the last seven years, I have also taught for American Military University’s graduate space program.

Let’s talk about you working at NASA, what was your reaction and what did others say when you told them you were working for NASA?

First let me say, working at NASA is awesome. I could not have found a job in a better organization. It is so fulfilling to know that each day the research I do is enabling a better tomorrow for everyone. When I tell people that I work at NASA, most of the time they say, “Wow, that’s cool.” However, I also hear things like, “I didn’t know that NASA is did weather, climate, and clouds.” One thing I like to reminds folks of is that Earth is a planet too. So, NASA studies all of the planets and that we have a keen interest in our home planet.

Many people don’t know how much NASA does for the scientific world and for environmental studies.  I think the consensus is that it is only about space.  Can you talk about your area of NASA and what are the goals that you hope to accomplish?

NASA is much more than space and human exploration. It turns out that the vantage point of space to view the Earth has a lot of advantages. NASA’s preeminence in all things space uniquely positions us to monitor the Earth system including the ocean, atmospheres, land, ice, plants, and animals. All of these areas of the Earth system are pieces of a puzzle that composes our climate system. My specific piece of this puzzle is to better quantify and understand how energy flows and is exchanged within the climate system.

My research focus over the last 10 years has been the many influences that cloud have in these energy flows, from reflecting sunlight back to space, redirecting infrared energy back to the surface, and the key role clouds play in precipitation. Better understanding how clouds modify the flows of energy throughout the climate system is necessary to improve our ability to better predict climate change. The ultimate impetus for this research is to improve life on Earth and help sustain human society. Critical systems that underpin our society, including food, water, energy, and security, are climate vulnerable.

This means that the access to and available of food, clean water, energy and safety is affected by the climate. Improving our ability to predict weather and climate will enable society to better “roll with the punches” associated with climate change, including a more sustainable future.

Patrick Taylor atmospheric scientist photo by David C Bowman/NASA Langley

How important is it for children to learn STEM skills and what was your favorite subject during school?

Education is critical. I would argue that education and STEM education is more important now than ever. Our world is changing fast. Technological advances seem to be move at the speed of light. Think about it, the iPhone is only 10 years old. Can you picture life without a smartphone? In order to cope with and understand the rapidly evolving world that is being thrust upon us, it is critical to have a grasp of STEM subjects. The technologically-driven world is showing no signs of slowing down. In light of this, it is as important for folks pursuing non-STEM careers as it is for those pursuing STEM careers to grasp STEM subjects. My favorite subject was always both science and math. I found them both very interesting. I have used what I have learned in those classes both inside my profession and in everyday life.

You have had an amazing career. What is your greatest accomplishment (so far)?

My greatest accomplishment would be being awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) in 2014. I received the award for my research furthering our understanding of the role that clouds play in Earth’s energy budget. As part of the award I was invited to the White House and got to meet then President Obama. It was a great honor that continues to motivate me today.

Winning the PECASE award is amazing! Any achievement like that though takes others around you inspiring you through your career and life. Let’s talk about inspiration. What was the best piece of advice that was given to you that has really stuck with you through your life?

The best piece of advice that I can give is to say ‘yes’ a lot. This leaves your open to new opportunities. One that you may not have known existed. The word ‘no’ closes doors and ‘yes’ opens them. Second, do not be afraid to tell your story. This will help you connect with people and you will be surprised to learn just how much you have in common with others. In addition, nobody tells your story better than you do. Go tell it!

That is great advice (and something I will probably be borrowing)! Thank you so much Patrick, for talking to us today. I want to end on one last question and it is incredibly serious. If a group of astronauts and a group of cavemen got into a fight, who would win?

Oh, most certainly NASA astronauts would win. Astronauts are some of the most intelligent, fit, and agile Americans—the best of the best. Plus, zero gravity is a physically demanding place and astronauts are trained for that. But, astronauts would only fight as a last resort. They are some of the most outgoing people and would certainly be able to defuse the situation with their wit.

Another point for astronauts! Thanks again for taking the time to answer a few questions for us at Questions To Inspire and thanks everyone for reading. Be sure to check out some of our other interviews and stay tuned for new interviews in the future!

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