Managing your supervisor

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You’re going to be working with them for a while. Supervisors, like projects, are all unique and have their own ways of working. Lots of us have banded together to give tips and advice on how to ‘manage your supervisor’ and by that we mean make the road towards a PhD a little bit easier.

For those of you looking to start a PhD, getting the right match between you and a supervisor is key. PhDs are already stressful enough without a strained supervisor-student relationship.

Know how they work

Supervisors all work differently. Some will leave you to wander for a bit before drawing you back to the point, and others will provide a map of where you’re going. There’s no right or wrong but sometimes their methods can get frustrating when you start comparing supervisors.

Find out the best way to contact them. Some never reply to email and others are never in the office or dislike being disturbed. Figure out between you and your supervisor the best way of getting in contact.

Personal and work balance

Some supervisors are happy to talk about personal problems. Others aren’t. Again, neither option is right or wrong, but it’s something you have to be aware of.

Ask for things

A PhD is intended as a personal development training programme and not just for writing a thesis and publishing papers. Don’t be afraid to ask to do something different, such as environment-Yes, internships, field work and summer schools to name a few.

If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Manage expectations

Saying yes to all the work they give you is only going to lead to disappointment for them and you. Be honest with the amount of work you can do, and say when you’re having a bad week. They’ll understand. Say when you’ve got enough on your plate already.

Know how long they take to read things, otherwise you’ll end up disappointed when the feedback you expected on a certain day doesn’t arrive.

Don’t expect them to be on email 24/7. Likewise, let them know that you’re not going to be checking emails at 3am either.

Know their style and expertise

Some come across more critical than others, some highlight the good as well as the bad. Their subject may make them biased on certain topics. Knowing their expertise allows you to tailor questions for them.

This is a lot more relevant to people with multiple supervisors, as often you can get two conflicting opinions and have no idea which one to accept. This happens, and it does teach you some diplomacy skills, but don’t go picking sides.

Get advice from other students

Chances are, other students will be supervised by your supervisor. Ask them for hints and tips of how they work. Ask about pitfalls to avoid and helpful tips. They might even have a manual on how to deal with them! There is a camaraderie between people who share the same supervisor!

If you’re still stuck and doing a PhD at Reading University, there’s an RRDP course by the graduate school called managing your supervisor. Definitely worth going to.

Summer Barbecue and Ceilidh

Every year the Meteorology Department holds a summer barbecue and ceilidh to celebrate the end of the academic year. Organised by a couple of PhD students, work has been going on behind the scenes for a couple of months. There’s a surprising amount of things to do for an event like this, with health and safety forms and events licenses to fill in as well as booking the band, trying to find 200 bread rolls, and ticket design and selling.

After what seems like an age the day of the barbecue finally arrived! The first job was to collect all the meat – trying to fit 160 burgers and sausages into the communal fridge finally put my tetris skills to good use. A day of bread slicing and salad prep followed until 4:30 arrived and all the PhD students were rounded up to transform the lawn next to the department into a summer party paradise. What looked like an explosion in a bunting factory, one extremely innuendo ridden marquee erection later and with the BBQs lit everything was ready for the guests.

How many PhD students does it take to put up a marquee?

Primarily being a barbecue the food was of utmost importance. As the guests began to arrive the brilliant (or foolish) volunteers were hard at work keeping up with the demand for sausages and burgers. Fortunately the weather held out and we ended up with a rather glorious evening. It was lovely to be sat out on the sunny lawn with a glass of sangria surrounded by people enjoying an event that you’d put together. However we couldn’t just sit back and watch the clouds all evening, there was the Ceilidh to come.

Following rave reviews last year the Hogs Back Band made their triumphant return. For those not in the know a ceilidh is a party with folk music and traditional dances. I don’t know about you but I don’t have a repertoire of traditional folk dances memorised. Luckily for us the band came with a caller who explains all the dance, gives some interesting facts and helps pressure some ‘volunteers’ to get up and dance.

The first people on the dance floor were the kids and families, but after a couple of songs, some social pressure and a touch of dutch courage the students and staff started to get up. For a supposedly well educated group some of the dances caused us a bit of trouble; fortunately the band’s caller was on hand to put us to rights and publicly shame the group that were having the most trouble. Let me tell you dancing to a ceilidh is a proper work out! Good job there was a stack of desserts brought by some of meteorology’s excellent bakers to keep us going.



After the sun had set everyone was rounded up for the final dance, with a lot of galloping round a giant circle and spinning round we were almost done. Just tidying up and then back inside for the afterparty.

All in all it was a great event to get everyone together and get the students and staff to mix in a social setting. Watching your supervisor dancing a ceilidh with their children certainly helps you remember that they’re real people too. It’s so lovely to be part of such a sociable department and be reminded that there’s more to life than your PhD.

The ‘Roaring Forties’ and the Ozone Hole


The ‘roaring forties’, often referred to as the ‘brave west winds’, are strong westerly winds in the Southern Hemisphere located between the latitudes of 40 and 50 degrees. These wild winds are some of the strongest on the planet and can traverse the globe at furious speeds, aided in part by the relative dearth of landmasses to serve as windbreaks. Their close companions, the ‘furious fifties’ and the ‘shrieking sixties’ represent regions of even stronger winds that affect the entire Southern Ocean. These strong and steady winds are the driving source of the primary Southern Ocean current (the Antarctic Circumpolar Current) and make it the largest ocean current on the planet.

Figure 1: (Sourced from Surface wind on 20-05-2017. Lighter colours represent regions of larger wind speeds.

The existence of these winds and ocean currents has long been known to sailors and in past centuries, they propelled ships at breakneck speed across the Pacific. In more recent times, vessels that will also travel this route include the British Antarctic Survey’s RRS Sir David Attenborough and the now infamous Boaty McBoatface! Research vessels such as these help contribute to our understanding of how the mid-latitude westerly winds interact with the Southern Ocean and the Antarctic climate, and whether there are any important feedbacks between these different components of the climate system. They are also an important source of evidence for how the climate is changing in one of the most remote places on Earth.

Figure 2: (Sourced from BBC News.) Boaty McBoatface.

While the rapid increase in CO2 has received much attention for its role in surface climate change in many parts of the globe, in the Southern Hemisphere middle-high latitudes it is arguably ozone depletion (and the associated ozone hole) that has led to the largest changes in surface climate. This is primarily because of the recent discovery that there are important dynamical effects associated with the Antarctic ozone hole – namely a shift in the location of the ‘roaring forties’! This result was quite unexpected at the time of its discovery as it had previously been assumed that surface impacts associated with the Antarctic ozone hole were primarily radiative in nature. Much work in recent years has gone into improving our understanding of how these dynamical effects are transmitted to the surface and what might be the future implications for Southern Hemisphere climate (see references for more details). In any case, the observed impacts of the ozone hole on the westerly winds offer a sobering reminder of the potentially large (and unexpected!) changes that anthropogenic emissions can induce in our climate.

Figure 3: (Sourced from Wikipedia.) Image of the largest Antarctic Ozone hole ever recorded over the Southern pole (September 2006).


Byrne, N. J., T. G. Shepherd, T. Woollings, and R. A. Plumb, (2017), Non-stationarity in Southern Hemisphere climate variability associated with the seasonal breakdown of the stratospheric polar vortex. J. Clim., in press. doi: 10.1175/jcli-d-17-0097.1.

Thompson, D. W. J., S. Solomon, P. J. Kushner, M. H. England, K. M. Grise, and D. J. Karoly, (2011), Signatures of the Antarctic ozone hole in Southern Hemisphere surface climate change. Nat. Geosci., 4: 741–749. doi:10.1038/ngeo1296.

Peer review: what lies behind the curtains?


Twitter: @a_w_bateson

For young researchers, one of the most daunting prospects is the publication of their first paper.  A piece of work that somebody has spent months or even years preparing must be submitted for the process of peer review. Unseen gatekeepers cast their judgement and work is returned either accepted, rejected or with required revisions. I attended the Sense about Science workshop entitled ‘Peer review: the nuts and bolts’, targeted at early career researchers (ECRs), with the intention of looking behind these closed doors. How are reviewers selected? Who can become a reviewer? Who makes the final decisions? This workshop provided an opportunity to interact directly with both journal editors and academics involved in the peer review process to obtain answers to such questions.

This workshop was primarily structured around a panel discussion consisting of Dr Amarachukwu Anyogu, a lecturer in microbiology at the University of Westminster; Dr Bahar Mehmani, a reviewer experience lead at Elsevier; Dr Sabina Alam, an editorial director at F1000Research; and Emily Jesper-Mir, the head of partnerships and governance at Sense about Science. In addition, there were also small group discussions amongst fellow attendees regarding advantages and disadvantages of peer review, potential alternatives, and the importance of science communication.

The panel of (L-R) Dr Sabina Alam, Dr Amarachukwu Anyogu, Dr Bahar Mehmani and Emily Jesper-Mir provided a unique insight into the peer review process from the perspective of both editor and reviewer. Photograph credited to Sense about Science.

Recent headlines have highlighted fraud cases where impersonation and deceit have been used to manipulate the peer review process. Furthermore, fears regarding bias and sexism remain high amongst the academic community. It was hence encouraging to see such strong awareness from both participants and panellists regarding the flaws of the peer review. Post-publication review, open (named) reviews, and the submission of methods prior to the experiment are all ways either in use currently or proposed to increase the accountability and transparency of peer review. Each method brings its own problems however; for example, naming reviewers risks the potential for less critical responses, particularly from younger researchers not wanting to alienate more experienced academics with influence over their future career progression.

One key focus of the workshop was to encourage ECRs to become involved in the peer review process. In the first instance this seems counterintuitive; surely the experience of academics further into their career is crucial to provide high quality reviews? However, ECRs do have the knowledge necessary. We work day to day with the same techniques, using the same analysis as the papers we would then review. In addition, a larger body of reviewers reduces the individual workload and will improve the efficiency of the process, particularly as ECRs do not necessarily have the same time pressures. Increased participation ensures diversity of opinion and ensures particular individuals do not become too influential in what ideas are considered relevant or acceptable. There also exist personal benefits to becoming a reviewer, including an improved ability to critically assess research. Dr Anyogu for example found that reviewing the works of others helped her gain a better perspective of criticism received on her own work.

Participants were encouraged to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of peer review and potential changes that could be made to address current weaknesses in the process. Photograph credited to Sense about Science.

One key message that I took away from the workshop is that peer review isn’t mechanical. Humans are at the heart of decisions. Dr Alam was particularly keen to stress that editors will listen to grievances and reconsider decisions if strong arguments are put forward. However, it also then follows that peer review is only as effective as those who participate in the process.  If the quality of reviewers is poor, then the quality of the review process will be poor. Hence it can be argued that we as members of the academic community have an obligation to maintain high standards, not least so that the public can be reassured the information we provide has been through a thorough quality control process. In a time when phrases such as ‘fake news’ are proliferating, it is crucial more than ever to maintain public trust in the scientific process.

I would like to thank all the panellists for giving up their time to contribute to this workshop; the organisations* who provided sponsorship and sent representatives; Informa for hosting the event; and Sense about Science for organising this unique opportunity to learn more about peer review.

*Cambridge University Press, Peer Review Evaluation, Hindawi, F1000Research, Medical Research Council, Portland Press, Sage Publishing, Publons, Elsevier, Publons Academy, Taylor and Francis Group, Wiley. 

Sting Jet: the poisonous (and windy) tail of some of the most intense UK storms


Figure 1: Windstorm Tini (12 Feb 2014) passes over the British Isles bringing extreme winds. A Sting Jet has been identified in the storm. Image courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory

It was the morning of 16th October when South East England got battered by the Great Storm of 1987. Extreme winds occurred, with gusts of 70 knots or more recorded continually for three or four consecutive hours and maximum gusts up to 100 knots. The damage was huge across the country with 15 million trees blown down and 18 fatalities.

Figure 2: Surface wind gusts in the Great Storm of 1987. Image courtesy of UK Met Office.

The forecast issued on the evening of 15th October failed to identify the incoming hazard but forecasters were not to blame as the strongest winds were actually due to a phenomenon that had yet to be discovered at the time: the Sting Jet. A new topic of weather-related research had started: what was the cause of the exceptionally strong winds in the Great Storm?

It was in Reading at the beginning of 21st century that scientists came up with the first formal description of those winds, using observations and model simulations. Following the intuitions of Norwegian forecasters they used the term Sting Jet, the ‘sting at the end of the tail’. Using some imagination we can see the resemblance of the bent-back cloud head with a scorpion’s tail: strong winds coming out from its tip and descending towards the surface can then be seen as the poisonous sting at the end of the tail.

Figure 3: Conceptual model of a sting-jet extratropical cyclone, from Clark et al, 2005. As the cloud head bends back and the cold front moves ahead we can see the Sting Jet exiting from the cloud tip and descending into the opening frontal fracture.  WJ: Warm conveyor belt. CJ: Cold conveyor belt. SJ: Sting jet.

In the last decade sting-jet research progressed steadily with observational, modelling and climatological studies confirming that the strong winds can occur relatively often, that they form in intense extratropical cyclones with a particular shape and are caused by an additional airstream that is neither related to the Cold nor to the Warm Conveyor Belt. The key questions are currently focused on the dynamics of Sting Jets: how do they form and accelerate?

Works recently published (and others about to come out, stay tuned!) claim that although the Sting Jet occurs in an area in which fairly strong winds would already be expected given the morphology of the storm, a further mechanism of acceleration is needed to take into account its full strength. In fact, it is the onset of mesoscale instabilities and the occurrence of evaporative cooling on the airstream that enhances its descent and acceleration, generating a focused intense jet (see references for more details). It is thus necessary a synergy between the general dynamics of the storm and the local processes in the cloud head in order to produce what we call the Sting Jet .

plot_3D_sj ccb_short
Figure 4: Sting Jet (green) and Cold Conveyor Belt (blue) in the simulations of Windstorm Tini. The animation shows how the onset of the strongest winds is related to the descent of the Sting Jet. For further details on this animation and on the analysis of Windstorm Tini see here.


Browning, K. A. (2004), The sting at the end of the tail: Damaging winds associated with extratropical cyclones. Q.J.R. Meteorol. Soc., 130: 375–399. doi:10.1256/qj.02.143

Clark, P. A., K. A. Browning, and C. Wang (2005), The sting at the end of the tail: Model diagnostics of fine-scale three-dimensional structure of the cloud head. Q.J.R. Meteorol. Soc., 131: 2263–2292. doi:10.1256/qj.04.36

Martínez-Alvarado, O., L.H. Baker, S.L. Gray, J. Methven, and R.S. Plant (2014), Distinguishing the Cold Conveyor Belt and Sting Jet Airstreams in an Intense Extratropical Cyclone. Mon. Wea. Rev., 142, 2571–2595, doi: 10.1175/MWR-D-13-00348.1.

Hart, N.G., S.L. Gray, and P.A. Clark, 0: Sting-jet windstorms over the North Atlantic: Climatology and contribution to extreme wind risk. J. Climate, 0, doi: 10.1175/JCLI-D-16-0791.1.

Volonté, A., P.A. Clark, S.L. Gray. The role of Mesoscale Instabilities in the Sting-Jet dynamics in Windstorm Tini. Poster presented at European Geosciences Union – General Assembly 2017, Dynamical Meteorology (General session)

Prof. Tapio Schneider – Our Distinguished PhD Visiting Scientist.


Every year PhD students from the Department of Meteorology at the University of Reading welcome a distinguished scientist in the field of environmental sciences. Previous scientists include Richard Rotunno (UCAR), Isaac Held (GFDL) and Susan Solomon (NOAA). This year’s honoured visitor was Professor Tapio Schneider from the climate dynamics research group from California Institute of Technology (Caltech), the academic home of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Tapio is a well-known contributor to our understanding of global climate dynamics and it was a pleasure to welcome him to our department.

Prof. Tapio Schneider with some of the current PhD cohort.

Our visiting scientist programme in the department is an opportunity for PhD students to share and explain their research to an external visitor. It allows for PhD research to be looked at from a completely new perspective which will hopefully improve the PhD studies. In a typical PhD visiting scientist week, the visiting scientist meets students one to one, attends departmental research groups and presents work in departmental seminars.

Tapio Schneider presented two departmental seminars during his time with us titled How low clouds respond to warming: Observational, numerical and physical constraints and Model hierachies: From advancing climate dynamics to improving predictions. The latter of these seminars encouraged a discussion to rethink how we approach advancing our modelling capabilities. Tapio argued that the atmospheric modelling community had not fully engaged in the benefits that observations offer. He suggested that our goal should be a heirarchical system that integrates both observational data and models. We should look into creating “machine-learning” models, those which use observational data to improve our modelling capabilities through altering parameterisation schemes and radiative balance calculations at the top of the atmosphere (as two examples).

As already mentioned, the visiting scientist also meets with students one-to-one and it was highly beneficial for my own project to have a meeting with Tapio Schneider. We discussed papers released by himself alongside his former PhD student Tobias Bischoff (for example, The Equatorial Energy Balance, ITCZ position and Double-ITCZ bifurications) which concentrate on creating a diagnostic framework with which we can estimate the location and structure of the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). We discussed conclusions reached from my own aquaplanet simulations and how they relate to the proposed diagnostic framework. Keep an eye on the blog for a post coming soon on the developments in my own PhD project, (titled, what determines the location and intensity of the ITCZ?).

To bring this blog post to a close I would like to thank Professor Tapio Schneider for his time, knowledge and wisdom that he shared with the PhD cohort whilst at Reading. Thank you also to those from the University of Reading who supported Tapio’s visit. Feedback from the PhD cohort is extremely positive and I would highly recommend a similar scheme for other scientific departments.

PhD social with the distinguished visitor.

Under-ice melt ponds in the Arctic


The Arctic’s climate is one of those most rapidly changing globally, and as such the region has become a poster-child of climate change. Sea ice area is frequently used as an indicator of the rate of change of the system, providing striking visualisations of the rapidity of the change in recent years. The sea ice is also a driver of climate change, with areal cover greatly affecting the planet’s albedo and ice melt cooling and desalinating the Arctic ocean, altering circulation globally.


Photo: Haakon Hop, Norsk Polarinstitutt

During the summer months, incoming solar radiation melts the surface layers of the sea ice. This melt water collects in hollows on the surface of the sea ice forming pools called melt ponds. Since the sea ice is porous, water from these ponds can percolate down or flow down through macroscopic flaws in the ice and out of the base of the ice. The melt water is relatively warm and fresh compared to the ocean below, so it floats between the ice and the ocean, gathering in pools beneath the sea ice called under-ice melt ponds. [1]

A couple of types of ice growth have been observed associated with these ponds. Most importantly, a sheet of ice can form at the interface between the pond and the ocean, completely isolating the fresh water from the ocean. As they create the illusion that they are the base of the sea ice, these sheets of ice are commonly referred to as ‘false bottoms’. [2]

We have developed a one-dimensional thermodynamic model of under-ice melt ponds to investigate how they affect their surroundings. We have carried out a number of sensitivity studies using this model, which have lead to some interesting conclusions about how these ponds evolve and affect the ice above them.

For example, the thicker the sea ice above an under-ice melt pond, the longer it takes to freeze due to a shallower temperature gradient above. As a result, more ice is gained due to under-ice melt ponds beneath thicker ice. This could be a positive feedback cycle, since we expect to see thinner ice on average as the Arctic warms, leading to less ice gained due to the ponds beneath it.


We also see that, as well as the outcome observed in the field, in which the false bottom migrates upwards and thickens as it freezes through the pond, it can also ablate under certain conditions. For example, ponds that are relatively salty at the start of the simulation freeze more slowly, and the false bottom ablates before it is able to reach the base of the sea ice.


Our sensitivity studies show that under-ice melt ponds could be responsible for up to 7.9% additional ice thickness at the end of a 50 day simulation. This would equate to up to 3.2% more ice volume across the Arctic dependent on the area of the ice underlain by these pools.

Recently, we have coupled our under-ice melt pond model with a simple, zero-dimensional model of the oceanic mixed layer. Using this coupled model, we see that the false bottom ablates more rapidly than a slab of sea ice, releasing more fresh water into the mixed layer. This strong reduction of salinity causes a shallowing of the mixed layer. We are currently further investigating the effects that the ponds have on the ocean below them.

Under-ice melt ponds and false bottom insulate the sea ice from below and affect the basal fluxes of salt and fresh water into the mixed layer, and thicken the ice above them allowing less radiation to penetrate through from the surface. They are clearly significant to the mass balance of the ice and the ocean below them, yet are not currently accounted for in the sea ice components of climate models. A parameterisation of their effects would be useful to include.

[1] Notz, Dirk, et al. “Impact of underwater‐ice evolution on Arctic summer sea ice.” Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans 108.C7 (2003).

[2] Martin, Seelye, and Peter Kauffman. “The evolution of under-ice melt ponds, or double diffusion at the freezing point.” Journal of Fluid Mechanics 64.3 (1974): 507-528.