Q&A with freezing-rain researcher Sophie Splawinski

160px-Ice_storm_(1)Sophie Splawinski is an MSURJ contributor studying in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at McGill. Her research into the phenomena of freezing rain has led her to write two articles for our journal: “Atmospheric circulation structures associated with freezing rain in Quebec City, Quebec” in Volume 6 and “The role of anticylones in replenishing surface cold air and modulating freezing rain duration” in Volume 7. MSURJ Editorial Board member Deborah Baremberg asked her about her research experience. 

How did you get involved in research? 
I am extremely passionate about weather and sought out the chair of my department in search of potential research opportunities. This lead to my application to NSERC and the publication of two papers with MSURJ, as well as a few awards at regional and international levels.
What attracted you to research weather – freezing rain in particular? 
My biggest interest in the domain of weather has always been severe phenomena. So when my supervisor provided me with the opportunity to research freezing rain within the St. Lawrence River Valley, I was very excited.
Have you continued to look into the topic of freezing rain since writing for MSURJ? 
Very much so. I continued my research after my second submission, working towards providing meteorological forecasters with truly robust freezing rain forecasting techniques. Over the last 9 months, we’ve enlarged our interest area – encompassing the entire St. Lawrence Valley from Massena, NY to Quebec City, QC. Furthermore, we managed to come up with two separate models to predict freezing rain: one model forecasts the onset, while the other forecasts the duration of freezing rain. These models could be easily used at the governmental level (i.e. at Environment Canada (CAN), or the National Weather Service (NWS) (USA)) and there are actually plans to implement them at the Burlington, VT National Weather Service Office, which forecasts for Massena, NY.
Do you have any new, ongoing, or future research topics you are/will be involved in? 
Research over my three years as an undergraduate spurred my application to the master’s program in Atmospheric Sciences at McGill. I am currently completing two separate research papers (for publication) on freezing rain, while at the same time working on my master’s thesis in conjunction with the NWS office in Burlington, VT. My thesis encompasses taking a look at severe wind and precipitation events at Burlington, VT over the last 30 years.
What is the most memorable event you experienced in the lab? The most fun? 
Most memorable: Breakthroughs, specifically when it comes to how to build models and getting the results we were hoping for. The most fun? Submitting my freezing rain paper to the Undergraduate Awards (an international research competition), which won its category and allowed me to travel to Dublin, Ireland, for 5 days of incredible networking and fun.
What has been the greatest (or one of the greatest) challenges in your research? 
Finding a way to sift through literally mountains of data to find the “diamond in the rough.” It is kind of like looking for a needle in a haystack, and takes a lot of perseverance and passion.
If you could give one piece of advice to people looking to start a research project or who are in the middle of a research project, what would it be? 
If you are starting, don’t stress about the sheer – and sometimes daunting – magnitude of the amount of work with which you might be faced. Find a subject that you are passionate about, as this greatly helps to motivate you through tougher moments. If you are in the middle of a project, make sure to take the time to step back and breathe if you do get stuck. One hard thing about research is that you often hit a lot of dead ends (I can say I have), but I remind myself that every dead end is one more thing to check-off the list as having been tested before the project has a conclusion come out of it. They are not a total loss; in fact they can be positive, given that research in most topics is so complex and multi-variate.
If you could give one piece of advice to people looking to publish their research (in MSURJ or elsewhere), what would it be?
GO FOR IT! Submitting papers for publication or for competition can have great implications, and you really don’t know what might come out of it.
In ten words or less, tell us what makes your department awesome. 
You’re more of a colleague than student with your supervisor.
What is your favourite protein?
Ummm…. steak? (I’m a meteorologist, not a biologist/chemist!)
Photo by Douglas Knisely via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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