[00:00:01] Speaker A: Greetings scholars, and welcome to following the Gong, a podcast of the Shrier Honors College at Penn State.
Following the Gong takes you inside conversations with our Scholar alumni to hear their story so you can gain career and life advice and expand your professional network. You can hear the true breadth of how Scholar alumni have gone on to shape the old after they rind the gong and graduate with honors and learn from their experiences so you can use their insights in your own journey. This show is proudly sponsored by the Scholar Alumni Society, a constituent group of the Penn State Alumni Association. I'm your host, Sean Doheen, class of 2011 and college staff member. If this is your first time joining us, welcome. If you're a regular listener, welcome back.
Dr. Paul Markowsdi, Class of 1996, is a Distinguished Professor of Meteorology and Penn State's Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science, where he studies thunderstorms and their tendon hazards, particularly focusing on tornadoes using state of the art observations and computer simulations. He has been at Penn State since graduating from the University of Oklahoma with his PhD in 2000. Prior to that, he earned his BS in meteorology with honors from Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences in 1996. In this episode, Paul talks about turning childhood fascinations into an academic and professional career, leveraging travel based research opportunities as a scholar, and tips for these experiences. How to decide that graduate school in Stem is for you. He goes on to talk about student leadership roles in groups like the Campus Weather Service and the Astronomy Club, and how these can help your career years down the road by saying yes to opportunities when they present themselves.
He also talks about factors to consider in choosing a graduate school, and his thoughts on twister and understanding science and Hollywood films and science focused documentaries. He talks about making career decisions as a graduating PhD student and the difference between graduate and professional degree timelines. He shares the responsibilities of Stem faculty at an R One teaching, research and service, and what those mean, and the differences between teaching undergraduates and grad students. He also dives in on the importance of being scientifically literate and shares what it's like joining your undergraduate department as a faculty member. Paul transitions to talking about self care and knowing your trigger point for when you've taken on too much, and transitioning from youthful activities to lifelong activities.
He also shares what it's like becoming an outside expert in your field, and if you're a fan of the NFL, you'll appreciate the story and the power of the Penn State Network. He wraps up by talking about working your way up to serve as the editor of an academic journal, making new discoveries in meteorology and thunderstorm science by building off the very basics and how small failures and small course tretchins and being willing to ask for help are critical. He closes out by sharing how to handle extreme weather events and the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning, and the importance of utilizing professor office hours. Now we'll dive into a very in depth conversation with Dr. Paul Murkowsty following the gong.
[00:03:06] Speaker B: Paul, thank you so much for joining me today on the show. I want to go back to the very beginning with you and ask what drew you to the disciplines of meteorology and atmospheric science that brought you to what was then the University Scholars Program at Penn State?
[00:03:23] Speaker C: Good morning, Sean. Thanks for having me on here. So, in a word, tornadoes. And I could even tell you which day and hour specifically. So I was a ten year old kid at the time. We had just done the weather unit in my fifth grade class, and lo and behold, the atmosphere struck while the iron was hot, so to speak. This was May 31, 1985. It was a Friday evening, and many people listening probably know exactly what happened that night, or their parents would, at least. This was tornado outbreak in western Pennsylvania in the span of a few hours.
There were as many people killed by tornadoes in Pennsylvania as had been killed in the previous half century. So this was a high end event, not even just by Pennsylvania standards. By Pennsylvania standards. It was unprecedented, and it's been since unequaled. But even from a national standpoint, this was a huge event. And that was it for me. The next morning, reading about these tornadoes, I thought, wow, this is tragic.
But it was also kind of fascinating that this could happen naturally, that the atmosphere is capable of such violence.
I was always kind of into science before that. I was into dinosaurs and astronomy. I mean, those are the big three things, right? Dinosaurs, astronomy, weather for kids. And, yeah, one book led to another and another and another, and eventually came to Penn State.
And I confess, I actually didn't know about the University Scholars Program as it was known back then. I knew meteorology was something Penn State had, but I think I was introduced to the Scholars Program through maybe just a brochure and why it was mailed to me, I don't know. Maybe it was an Sat score, PSAT score, something like that. Anyway, I got this thing in the mail, and I thought, oh, this is interesting, and came up here on a visit, and, yeah, the rest is history. I applied, got lucky. Not sure I could get in nowadays, but the stars lined up, I got in, and here I am.
[00:05:51] Speaker B: So you get to campus from western Pennsylvania, and obviously you're taking meteorology classes, know you're now teaching, but I'm curious on what kind of pre professional or out of the class opportunities you were able to take advantage of to put your in class learning into practice while you were still a student.
[00:06:10] Speaker C: Yeah, so just a quick clarification, I actually didn't grow up in Western PA. I grew up in the Harrisburg area mostly, but we were close enough to the Western Pennsylvania tornadoes that it was certainly a headline making event, even where I grew up. Anyway, yeah, there are a lot of experiences along the way, but I think the most important was between the summer of my junior year and the summer of my senior year, I did a summer research Experiences for Undergraduates program. These are called reus.
They're sponsored by the National Science Foundation. And I did one out in, you know, my whole life, going back to this early childhood event that involved tornadoes. My whole life I thought, tornadoes are really interesting. And here now, finally, as a rising senior at Penn State, I finally got to go out to Tornado Alley. And maybe hands on is not the right word because you don't put your hands on the tornado. But this was hands on tornado science. And I thought, wow, I didn't even know people could make a living doing this.
[00:07:27] Speaker B: Can you tell us a little bit about what that summer was like and any tips that you have for students who are going off to a new place for a research opportunity or an internship?
[00:07:38] Speaker C: Yeah, so probably the thing I took from that experience was that at least in science and research, you kind of have a long leash before that. My summer jobs involved working at an insurance company, working at a library, and you've got pretty strong guardrails tasks, everything's managed. And then you go to science and it's totally open ended. It's like, well, figure this out. And some people actually aren't very comfortable with that. It's not for everyone. But if you're somebody who actually is okay with a little fuzziness where maybe you don't even know exactly what the question is that's being asked, you're certainly not sure of what the answer is, and you're just told to, hey, here's a sandbox. Once you go digging around and exploring, if you're okay with that, and you like the fact that you're not going to have a boss micromanaging every minute of your day and you don't even have to wear a suit and tie to work, that was what I took home from that experience. I was like, wow, more of this. But if I want that for my life, for a career, I knew then that meant I had to go to graduate school. That that's what really put me on the graduate school trajectory after leaving my honors college days.
[00:09:03] Speaker B: Now, before we get to your grad school experience, I know in our pre questionnaire for you, you mentioned that you were involved in the campus weather service and helped lead that as a student. Can you talk about that experience?
[00:09:16] Speaker C: Yeah. So campus weather service, it's an entirely student run weather forecasting operation.
I was involved with that from day one at Penn State and eventually became the president of that organization.
Also, as a sidebar, was involved in the astronomy club. In fact, became president of that club as well. So it's kind of a funny thing. Most people in the astronomy major actually don't know the night sky where the constellations are, which is one reason why I kind of eventually migrated from astronomy to weather. Because as I learned more about astronomy, I learned that putting your eye to the eyepiece to look through a telescope, that was really kind of the astronomy done last century. That wasn't really where modern astronomy was going. And I was more interested in looking at the night sky being outside. Yeah, I was involved in a couple of those organizations astronomy Club, Campus Weather Service, and it was a lot of extra work, honestly, especially in leadership positions in those clubs.
My personality type is probably not one, and there are probably some people that can relate to this. It's probably not one that naturally seeks to go take charge and lead the organization.
But I think most people probably would say I'm a pretty organized person, maybe to a fault. They look at my desk, and I'm not like the stereotypical professor that's just got a sloppy office with papers and books stacked high.
I'm kind of a neat freak.
Sorry, that was probably more information than you needed. But circling back to this leadership thing, I'm not somebody who I think is naturally inclined to say, oh, I want to be president of this organization someday. But I think sometimes what happens is people look around, they're like, well, smarkowski guy, at least he's organized.
Let's go to him and see if he wants to run this thing, because we want somebody to make sure the ship stays on course, and if somebody reaches out to me and says, hey, can you serve in this capacity? I kind of view it as, all right, well, this organization has been good to me. I'll give a little back, and sure, I can step in and serve. That's kind of how I end up in some of these leadership roles. Yeah, it was a lot of work.
It was rewarding at the end. I mean, maybe that sounds a little cliched. It was a lot to balance. I do think that those experiences that I didn't have to do them, but I said yes to them, I do think they paid off in ways that I could not have foreseen at the time, and I think that happens a lot of times.
I tend to err on saying yes to things when people come asking. I mean, sometimes you can go out of your way to look for things, but sometimes they just kind of come to you. You can't really push it too much, but you've got to be ready to say yes and take a chance when it lands in your lap, because there might be a payoff years down the road that you could not possibly have foreseen.
[00:12:48] Speaker B: Do you have any examples of that that might come to mind?
[00:12:51] Speaker C: Yeah, so one example was when I first moved to Oklahoma, there was a sign hanging by the elevator. I hardly knew anybody. I mean, I was literally I just rolled into town and signed by the elevator. It was Professor Alan Shapiro was looking for somebody to sign up for a summer special Topics in the Fluid Dynamics of Vortices. I mean, come is to most people, they're like, I need that. Like, I need a hole in my head. And I was like, Well, I don't really know anyone, and no one has signed up for this thing. And he emails me. He knows he probably took advantage of me a bit. Knowing I was the new guy in town was unlikely to blow him off. He said, hey, no one else has signed up for this. Why don't you sign up for I thought, oh, you know, I really didn't want to be doing this. I wanted to come to Oklahoma to chase storms. I don't want to be studying fluid dynamics of Vortices, writing some Fortran computer code.
But I said yes and no idea what I'd gotten myself into.
Three months later, I have now a network relationship with Professor Shapiro that I wouldn't have had otherwise.
And eventually, the work I did spun off into a journal article in one of the most prestigious journals in atmospheric science. And that was a journal article that I don't know that I can say. That single article got me hired at this job later on, but it certainly didn't hurt. It really showed my versatility five years later when I was applying for jobs because people saw me doing stuff in tornadoes with radars or other instrumented vehicles, but then they saw this other thing on the side, this fluid dynamics project, like, oh, wow, this Markowski person kind of looks versatile, almost like a Swiss Army knife. And it never would have happened. That really set that was so beneficial. Had this payoff five years, and honestly, it probably paid off even after that. When I was going up for tenure many years later at Penn State, there was a payoff 510, 15 years later because of something I did when I was 21 years old. Just seeing this sign by the elevator.
[00:15:32] Speaker B: I think that's a really good point you just made, Paul, about being versatile and saying yes to kind of these seemingly random opportunities that jump up in front of you. Now, you wrote this journal article, but obviously it was not the first academic piece that you wrote. I'm curious, but I'm also probably not going to be surprised if your thesis was written on tornadoes, is that correct?
[00:16:00] Speaker C: Yeah, my honors thesis was on tornadoes. Of course I didn't publish that, but yeah, in graduate school, my thesis were on tornado or severe thunderstorm related phenomena. You probably don't want to know all those gory details. Most people don't even my own family doesn't care.
[00:16:29] Speaker B: Well, maybe you could give us just the quick two minute drill version of what you wrote about.
[00:16:34] Speaker C: Oh, sure.
Well, for the honors thesis, it was about tornado outbreak in the Washington, DC baltimore corridor in July of 1994.
But that was kind of like show and tell. That's probably why it never really occurred to me to publish this. It was very descriptive, not really blasting people with a revolutionary new idea about how tornadoes form, which is this is why we do field projects, because typically the data sets we have that are just regularly available from the everyday weather observing systems, those just aren't enough to actually do cutting edge science with, generally speaking. But then when I was in grad school, you had access to all these tools. We are collecting special data sets. We've got instruments on wheels, doing simulations of storms that are pretty cutting edge. And yeah, kind of the 32nd explanation of my PhD thesis is we found that the temperatures of downdrafts in thunderstorms are quite variable, and it turns out that downdrafts that are somewhat warm are more favorable for tornadoes than downdrafts that are really cold.
[00:17:58] Speaker B: Definitely important to know for your area. And even I think I understood that. So great job explaining that in laypeople's terms.
Really appreciate that. Now I'm assuming the opportunity to actually work out in the field and put these instruments to test is what drew you to Oklahoma for grad school.
[00:18:18] Speaker C: That's exactly right.
So Oklahoma checked off a lot of boxes for me at the time.
Sometimes you pick graduate school for just purely geographical reasons.
People go to Colorado because they want to go skiing or hiking. And I chose Oklahoma because it was a warm, sunny place. And to be honest, growing up in the Northeast, and during four years of walking across the Penn State campus through the cloudy, I mean, it's basically cloudy here from October to March some years. And in that six month span, maybe there's ten to 20% of the days are sunny and fewer clear nights than that, even. And Oklahoma, for me, I was like, oh, this will be sunny, warmer. So I like that. And the storms aspect, oh, I can go storm chasing. I can't really do that in Pennsylvania. But the research experience that I did there as a rising senior at was when I did a summer program in Oklahoma that was for me, a sneak preview of what life in Oklahoma would be like and what life is studying tornadoes would be like. And yeah, I thought, this is know there are tools here that I'd have at my disposal that literally I won't have anywhere else on Earth.
[00:19:42] Speaker B: I think that was really good that you used your undergrad experience to travel there as a preview and say, hey, I do want to come here.
I've had some guests on the show where they've said, I learned what I didn't want in an internship. But in your instance, it sounds like you learned what you wanted. And I want to just kind of go off to the side for just a second here. I'm looking at the dates that you were in school, and the movie Twister came out right around that time. I'm curious what impact that film and presumably kind of the B movie knockoffs that followed had on the meteorology field at the time when you were right in the midst of getting your career up and running.
[00:20:23] Speaker C: Yeah. So Twister, they were filming that when I was out in Oklahoma in the summer of 95. They were also filming it in 94.
And that came out, I think, May of 96. This was right when I graduated in May of 96. I think Twister came out at almost the same week.
And whether you like the movie or not, I actually like the movie.
But there's a surge in undergraduate students in the years that came after that. That of course, we can never know for sure whether there's a direct cause and effect, but certainly there's a correlation of a bump up in students interested in meteorology with the release of that film.
You mentioned the B movie knockoffs. We're not going to mention names Sharknado, but honestly, a lot of people come up to me and they ask me, you probably can't stand films like Sharknado or Twister because they're so unrealistic. Honestly.
Yeah, they're unrealistic. They've got cheesy lines. They get all sorts of things scientifically wrong.
I'm okay with that because I'd like to think most people, when they go to see a film at a movie theater, if they know it's from Hollywood, they don't expect it to be a science documentary. They're there to be entertained. So as long as the film's entertaining, I actually don't care that much about how scientifically accurate it is. And you might take away my office at Penn State for hearing a scientist make that confession. But what I actually do have a problem with is when shows on, we're not going to mention any specific network names, but there are certain channels that I think you could watch similar weather documentaries on, and they're also not scientifically accurate. But the problem is that when somebody watches a documentary about tornadoes on one of these channels that I won't name, they kind of assume that this has been filtered by experts. It's been given somebody stamp of approval.
If you watched a music documentary on music, television, MTV, you'd kind of assume, well, they must have this pretty much right because these are the music people. But I can say that there's a lot of stuff on cable channels that kind of suggest that they have some authority and they're not really that good either scientifically. And I think those are actually more damaging than films like Twister or Sharknado because when you watch it on a channel that seems by its name suggests they have expertise of. I think people expect that it's correct. So not sure what else to say about that. I'm a little disappointed in that, but what can you do?
[00:23:42] Speaker B: Now, you mentioned how gray it can be in Happy Valley periodically, mostly starting we're recording in October, but yet you left Sunny, Oklahoma, and came back to Penn State and have been here since.
What was it that drew you back to State College?
[00:24:00] Speaker C: So full confession. I don't know that I was I think if you look at my resume, it's a logical conclusion that, okay, starts at Penn State, goes to Oklahoma, boomerangs, back to Penn State. This guy had a long term strategic plan where he was going to go get tooled in Oklahoma and then circle back and take over the world in Penn State. And that was actually never part of my long term plan. I got to say, I was just kind know, as an undergrad, you're looking forward to graduating. And then toward late, my undergrad days, I realized, oh, research is a career possibility. I need to go to grad school. So I start grad school, and I'm basically looking at, well, I got to get a master's degree. And then I get toward the end of the master's degree, and I'm like, oh, I should get a PhD. This is too much fun. So I'm not one of these ten year olds that has circled PhD before they're out of fifth grade.
For me, it was one step at a time.
It's okay for people to be that way, unless you think, I didn't turn out okay.
So I got my PhD, and as I was nearing the end of my PhD, I was like, oh, gosh, I got to think about life after a PhD. It's very easy as a PhD student, you're so tunnel visioned on your work. You just don't have any idea what's going on in the rest of the world. Jobs are not really at the front burner of what you're thinking about. You're just like, I got to come up with something big for this thesis. That's one of the challenges of grad school in Stem fields is you're not done until you're done. And that could be five years, four years, six years, gulp. Eight years.
Whereas if you go to law school or medical school, first day of medical school, first day of law school, you can circle the calendar four years down the road or whatever years down the road, and you know you're going to be a doctor or a lawyer when you get to that date. And in graduate school, you're not done until you come up with something novel and significant. And a lot of it's luck. Some of it's just working smartly, not necessarily working hard. I mean, everybody's working hard, but some people just have a real knack for figuring out very quickly which avenue is likely to be a dead end so that they can make a quick course correction before wasting too much time on a dead end.
So, yeah, back to your original question. Sorry about the tangent. You asked about how I ended up back at Penn State. So as I was nearing the end of the PhD finish line, it occurred to me, oh, I got to start looking for a job.
And at the time, I had a girlfriend and then a fiance, and she was also from the Northeast, and I just wanted a job anywhere. It didn't really matter to me. I would have been happy to stay in the central US. Or even going farther west, farther from my origins in the mid Atlantic region. She, I think, really wanted to kind of head back toward the east, but the reality is I was applying for jobs everywhere. And long story short, I got a bite at Penn State, got an interview, and the rest is history, and we ended up back here. But, yeah, it was not that I was necessarily gunning for Penn State or shooting for a return to Happy Valley. I mean, I do love living here, don't get me wrong, but, yeah.
[00:27:48] Speaker B: It.
[00:27:48] Speaker C: Was kind of a late breaking development.
[00:27:50] Speaker B: Great insights on grad school in Stem. I like your point about the difference between, say, law and medicine versus kind of the open ended fields, I think, in Stem and sometimes in the humanities as well. So really good points there. So I have two questions that are kind of interweaving. So tackle these as you will.
First, as a faculty member, what all do you teach and research?
And in the same vein, what is it like being on faculty in the same department that you graduated with your bachelor's from?
[00:28:24] Speaker C: Those are great questions. So teaching wise in the Stem fields in those departments, typically, so there's an expectation that you're doing teaching and research. I mean, Penn State's so called R one university top tier research school, that means Penn State's mission is both dissemination of knowledge. That would be the teaching part, but it's also creation of knowledge. That's the research part. And you got to be able to do both. That's your job as a faculty member in the Stem field. So assuming you've got research grants and a group of graduate students involved in the trenches on your research projects, typically you're teaching only two to sometimes three classes a year. So that's on average, probably about one a semester. I'd say one a semester is the median.
Some people would do two if the research is winding down or if there's some other weird circumstances going on. But let's say the median is about one, which to people who don't know how the system works, they hear that you teach one class a semester, and they think, oh, my gosh, that's so easy. What are you doing? Are you out just screwing around all day? I'm like, no, actually, I'm doing a million other things. It's just that you're only seeing me in the classroom that one or 3 hours a week for a three credit class. Anyway, you asked which classes I teach. I've taught everything from the graduate level electives that are really narrow, specialized, maybe five, six people in the audience to junior senior level electives, junior senior level required classes in the major meteorology. But then I've also taught Gen, Eds and Media Three, which is introductory meteorology. Media Five, severe and Unusual Weather. And frankly, I enjoy the Gen Ed teaching by far the most. And I'm not just blowing smoke, they are by far the most enjoyable. And I think I enjoy them so much because I know the stakes are actually a lot higher in those classes than in the graduate level Esoteric Meteorology 500 level class. Reason being is that in a Gen Ed class, there's an audience of 100. I've got 130 right now. Media Five.
Most of those students don't even want to be there. They're in the class because they have to take a GN class.
For most of them, it's one of their last one, two, maybe one of their last three experiences in science the rest of their lives. And when I say that, what I really could say is the rest of their voting lives. And right now there's so many problems worldwide that require science solutions, and these problems require collaborations, international collaborations, but collaboration, even domestically right now, we have trouble collaborating even within our own country on pressing issues where science needs to be part of the policy discussion and.
[00:32:02] Speaker B: We.
[00:32:03] Speaker C: Need voters to understand how science works.
Media five class. Yeah, it's severe and unusual weather. We talk about hurricanes and tornadoes, but frankly, I view those as the carrots. Just to get people in the classroom, I bring them in there. We talk about tornadoes and hurricanes, sure, but we talk about science, how the sausage is made. I talk about the peer review process. People have no idea on the streets just how rigorous publication the publication process is.
Scientists can be mean sometimes. They're big egos, they're ruthless questioners, they're skeptical of everything. And the average person actually can see that as a coldness. That's often maybe why the bad guy in a lot of movies is the scientist.
There is a little bit of truth to that.
But we talk about in these Gen ed classes, I can talk to them about the scientific process, about how scientists don't always have it right, we don't claim to always have it right. But there's a process in science by which you turn over stones, you get to the truth, or as close to the truth as you can get. And it's all about refining our understanding. And if new data arrive that don't fit with your existing conceptual model, then you change your conceptual model. That's science. And I think it's really important to tell this story.
And also I kind of. Think of myself as a science ambassador in these classes, not so much a science teacher. I'm there as an advocate for science, and I want them to see me as a fair person. I want them to think I'm a smart person and thorough and careful and a good steward of public funds. I mean, all of them in the audience are paying for my science as taxpayers, and I tell them this. And I want them to kind of see scientists as fair, reasonable people so that we get to the point where maybe 20 years out of school there's some pressing issue of the day.
Climate I'm sure will still be an issue, but there'll be other issues that require science and policy discussions. It would be really nice if some of these students can be out there in the voting booth or talking to their friends and say something to themselves. Like, there was this Media Five class I took back at Penn State many years ago. I didn't understand what stream wise vorticity was or why the winds are strongest in the eye wall of the hurricane and not somewhere else. But that Markowski guy actually, I don't even remember his name, but the dude we had in that class, he seemed like a fair, reasonable person. He wasn't arrogant.
We should just do what the scientists tell us to do because they don't always get it right, but at least they know it's a good starting point. And wouldn't it be great if we could get to that point in society? Because we are not there now.
So that's kind of how I view the Gen. Ed mission. And that's a far bigger calling than just talking to five high level grad students about the inner workings of vortex dynamics. In fact, you could argue that talking to the general population in Gen. Ed classes has a bigger impact on those five specialists than if I talk to the five specialists myself. What I mean by that is that the brightest minds in the country or in the world, they can't do anything if they don't have the support of the general population.
So I kind of view myself as helping our grad students more by not teaching our own grad students, but by teaching the Gen. Eds instead.
And the grad students, they'll be fine. They can figure stuff out on their own. You also asked about what it was like being in a department where I got my undergrad degree. So I got to confess it was weird starting out, especially in my interview in the first few years, because here I am now, on the other side of the fence, as colleagues of mine are people I had taken a class from four or five years a weird. It was a bit weird to be on a first name basis hey, Bill. Hey, Jenny.
Where it used to be Dr. Evans or Dr. Brune. But you get used to that pretty quickly because in grad school you're also talking to people on a first name basis who have a doctorate. So that wore off pretty quickly. And the other thing that helped is Penn State's Department so big in meteorology that probably only a third of the faculty that I was colleagues with I'd ever had for a class anyway.
But now here we are, 2021. I think almost everybody's retired that I would have taken a class from. Maybe there's one or two faculty that are still around. So yeah, not a big deal.
[00:37:13] Speaker B: So you kind of alluded to this a little bit, but I'm curious on how you balance the teaching, the research, the service, and if you can illuminate your perspective on the waves and balance for scholars who may be looking to go into academia themselves.
[00:37:31] Speaker C: Learning how to balance the research and teaching and other stuff you'll get asked to do. We'll just call that loosely service.
I can't say that I figured it out after all these years. It's something you're always kind of making adjustments on. Sometimes things get a little out of whack.
First off, you got to be really organized. But the other thing is those things can be like expanding foam that you use to fill cracks where it just takes up every cubic millimeter of oxygen if you're not careful. And I think for me, self care is really important. Fencing off time for exercise. It doesn't have to be one of these you burned 3000 calories in an hour gigs. It's just walking can be enough. And in fact, studies have shown that just pacing or walking actually stimulates better thought.
In other words, you're not doing yourself any favors by sitting in your chair all day. You maybe have fooled yourself into thinking that you're being really productive by strapping yourself to the chair for 10 hours a day.
You're not people I know that have done that from afar. I see them as constantly overestimating their productivity levels. They're not as productive as they think they're being by strapping themselves into the chair all day.
So I think my best ideas, whether it's teaching or research, don't come to me when I'm sitting in my office and Walker Building on the Penn State campus. My best ideas almost always come to me when I'm out walking or exercising of some sort. Sometimes running.
Don't particularly love running, but maybe you could say that I like pizza and beer more than I dislike running. So I have to do some running.
But yeah, mowing the grass, out for a walk, out for a run. That's when I have my AHA moments like, oh, I should do this. And sometimes I'll be out running with my phone. I'll quickly leave myself a voice memo or be punching something into sending myself a message or something. So I've had days where I've sat in my chair all day trying to debug a computer program. And I think and some people have probably had this experience. You think you're ten minutes away from chasing down the bug. Only ten more minutes, I got this. And then an hour goes by and you're like, oh, no, I'm just a minute away from this. And then another hour goes by, and then your wife calls and they're like, where the heck are you? Dinner surge. You got to get on. And then you're like, oh, dang it. All right, I'll leave now and I get up out of my chair before I'm even halfway across the parking lot, it hits me. Oh, darn. I know exactly what went wrong with that computer code. All I had to do earlier in the day was get out of my seat and walk. And something jarred something loosened my brain. People who study the brain have been onto something about this for some time now, but I can't emphasize that enough. I'm not just saying this because it's a chic thing to say, really. You got to take care of yourself. Exercise or walk, get out. You're not doing your work any favors by just staying in the office all day. So you asked about balancing that's kind of like balancing work with your life outside of work in terms of balancing teaching, research and service within a work day or within your academic career.
Yeah, that's something people struggle with.
If you're in a tenure line faculty position like I am, research is really important. I mean, you can be a great teacher, but if you're asked to make cutting edge discoveries and you're just not carrying out the research, I think the reality is no teaching is going to carry the weight at the end of the day. If you're a horrible teacher, but you're really good at research, I'd like to think that you better step up the teaching as well. That somebody's probably going to tap you on the shoulder and say, look, we know you're doing good research, but that can't just be everything. So you do have to be careful about paying attention to all of those things. What you can't have happen is you can't let service get completely out of hand. And some people really like doing the service stuff. And I've certainly said it's good to say yes to opportunities to come along, but there has to be some limit where if they start impacting your teaching or research, then you just got to back off a little bit. And you also can't let them impact your life outside of work too much.
I'm really big on this. You got to fence off time for yourself, for exercise, but you got to err on the side of saying yes to opportunities. And people often ask me, well, how do you know when you're over committed?
You're telling me I should take advantage of all these things that come along? Say yes to this, say yes to that. Well, isn't there a risk in saying yes to aven. And I think everybody should have a trigger point that says, okay, that's enough. Something's got to I got to say no now. And for me, that trigger point is the exercise thing. If I start missing workouts or if I'm not able to play golf as much as I like, or if I start missing time with my kids or family, then that's going to be a problem. That is a huge red flag. Don't go. So at that point, there's going to be a readjustment, but everybody's got to know what their own trigger point is. It could be basket weaving. It could be crochet. It's got to be something you like doing.
And once that stops happening, you've got to recognize that, okay, this is not good, because I really need it's important to me to do that basket weaving or crochet or whatever it is you do.
[00:43:53] Speaker B: And obviously you mentioned golf, which is a great hobby to pick up, and one that clearly you're doing well in, because for those who are not familiar with some of our alumni programs, dr. Murkowski actually won our inaugural virtual Golf Championship tournament this past May on the solo track. So congrats on that victory, Paul.
[00:44:17] Speaker C: Thank you.
I'd actually forgotten about that. I'm sorry.
Yeah, golf. So golf is something I kind of took up late in life. Maybe I was playing the wrong sports as a kid and I should have been in golf right from the get go. But, yeah, I was in soccer and Little League baseball as a little kid. That's what most little kids do, at least back when I grew up in the 1980s, those were probably the most popular. I did youth basketball as well. Never really was into football that much. But, yeah, as I got older, baseball was actually a thing that I took a liking to and really excelled at. And in fact, one thing that didn't come out earlier in the interview is when I was looking at Penn State for meteorology, I was actually looking at Penn State for baseball as well. So I had been recruited to be a pitcher on the baseball team at Penn State and kind of wondering about that cliffhanger that didn't work out, so and that's okay. I'm doing just fine where I'm at now. No regrets there. But when my baseball career wound down, I did continue baseball in summer collegiate leagues, even through graduate school out in Oklahoma, pitched in some leagues. And even back here when I came back as a faculty member, I was pitching in some what could be loosely referred to as semi professional baseball leagues.
Eventually I was popping 16 ibuprofen a day like Tic TACs. It was like, what am I doing here? I'm 30 years old, wearing these silly costumes, throwing a ball game an hour from home. This just isn't so fun anymore. So I got off of that horse and had kind of messed around with golf before that, but it wasn't very good.
Once baseball was out of the picture, I went all in on golf. It's something about hitting balls with an object, whether it's a bat, a baseball, or golf club. And a golf ball, you don't have to hit everyone perfectly, but every once in a while, you hit one just right on the sweet spot, and it hooks you. You're like, wow, I can't believe I did that to the ball. Look how far it went. And you're hooked. And, yeah, here I am. I play more golf now than I would be willing to confess to publicly. Yeah, baseball skills have transferred pretty nicely to that. And it was even good enough, I guess, to eke out this honors college tournament they had over the summer. Yeah, thanks for bringing that up, Sean.
[00:46:57] Speaker B: And the sports, I think, is a great segue and a tee up for you. Now, sometimes when you're as distinguished in your profession as you are, you can get tapped outside of the academic setting to put your expertise to bear in, quote, unquote, the real world. And you have a really cool example of that. Can you share that?
[00:47:18] Speaker C: This was January of 2014. So I get a phone call on my Penn State phone. We have caller ID. It says NFL. I'm like, NFL? What is this, National Fishing League? I didn't even answer the phone. Usually when people call me at work, it's bad news. It's somebody with a crackpot idea. Hey, want to collaborate with me and cover the world with liquid nitrogen to stop hurricanes, or do you want to nuke tornadoes? So I don't answer the phone. Usually. I saw this, didn't answer, leave a message. I checked my voicemail. It's Steve Miller from the National Football League. He was the chief of security at the time. And can you call me back? So I'm thinking, all right. Some former student of mine listed me as a reference. He just wants to give me a quick call to find out if Jane Smith is going to be a good employee. So I call back. And here what he wanted to talk about. Was Super Bowl 48, I think it was. This was the outdoor Super Bowl at the Meadowlands between the Broncos and the Seahawks. It was Peyton Manning against Russell Wilson. So I had an interview with Roger Goodell two days later. And here they wanted, basically, a personal weather consultant for the couple of weeks leading up to the Super Bowl. Of course, I said yes, and it was a heck of an experience. It was really a lot of fun. These guys were really intelligent, probably most sophisticated audience I've ever dealt with when it comes to weather forecasting. They weren't interested in what's the wind going to be or what's the temperature going to be at game time. They wanted to know what the worst case scenario would be. So every day leading up in the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl. I'd present them with 20 to 30 different computer simulations, and I'd say, well, here's what's probably going to happen. But there's this one outlier, one in 20 chance that eight inches of snowfall in the afternoon for the Super Bowl. And for them, that's a crisis.
They can play the game. They were worried about having an empty stadium about people not being able to get to the game. So, yeah, they were just eating this stuff up. This is information that usually you're not presented with when you get your usual TV weather cast, usually you're just getting kind of the most likely weather. You're not getting the whole distribution.
What's the one in 20 worst case outcome here? When it was all said and done and I got a decent paycheck out of this, I got a game ball from the sewer bowl, which, when it got shipped here, we played with it in the backyard. It was kind of cool. I mean, who gets to say they played backyard football with a game ball from the sewer bowl that Peyton Manning might have been holding a few days earlier? That was awesome. When this was all said and done, I asked the NFL guy, my first contact there was the Steve Miller guy, chief of security. And I asked him, Why did you land on me to do this? There's at least 100 people, maybe a thousand people in my field that could have done this. So Steve Miller was a Penn State grad, as it turns out. So he knew Penn State had a meteorology program. He also went to the American Meteorological Society website. At the time, I was the chief editor of the Journal of Weather and Forecasting. So he saw my name there on the American Meteorological Society website on their masthead. He saw my name on Penn State's meteorology website. So he's just scanning names, fishing. He really has no idea who he's looking for, what he's looking for. He sees my name in two places, so he figures, oh, let's give this guy a call. He calls me, and the rest is history. Lightning struck. This wasn't going back to airing on the site of saying yes. The reason my name was on the American Meteorological Society website is because I said yes years earlier to a volunteer position serving as the editor of a journal. I got paid nothing, but I did it because I thought, oh, this will be an interesting experience, being the editor of this journal. How did I get to be the editor of the journal? By saying yes to a lot of requests to review journal articles in the years before that. And some of those requests even went back to when I was a graduate student. No one pays you to do this. You're asked as a service. Hey, can you do a favor and take a look at this article and tell us what you think. And I could have said no. I could have said, I'm too busy. I could have said, this will do nothing at all to help me get a PhD. This will do nothing at all to help me get a job at Penn State. But I said yes because I just figured, well, this will be a good experience. What's the worst that can happen? I waste a few hours and I get nothing out of it. But I said yes. And there's no way I could have foreseen the payoff years later that here, you know, pinch me having a conversation with Roger Goodell about the Super Bowl and the weather forecast.
[00:52:00] Speaker B: That is incredible. And it sounds like everything worked out for you for the game. I remember the weather actually turned out pretty nice for February in the Northeast, maybe. Not so much for Peyton Manning and the Broncos. I remember they had a bit of a rough night that night, but it all worked out for him two years later so the sheriff could ride off into the sunset. Now, we've talked a lot about your career. What would you say so far is your biggest success and your biggest learning moment and what you took out of.
[00:52:27] Speaker C: Both of those biggest success?
I might say, and I know people tend to remember that things, they have a short term memory. So whenever you ask historians about the most consequential thing, there's always a bias toward things that have happened more recently. Maybe, but I really do think so with that, I'm potentially biased here, but I think in the last three years, this is one of my biggest successes. And when I say my biggest, I'm really referring to my whole group and collaborators, other faculty as well. But we managed to get the first ever three dimensional mapping of temperature in a thunderstorm. And you might be thinking, well, how hard can that be? We have radars all over the place. We've been studying storms for over half a century. Yeah, we don't have temperature, though, so radar gives us the winds. And I'm in science, which means we're into predicting things or understanding how they work. If we understand how something works, we potentially can predict it better, sometimes better. Understanding doesn't necessarily make it more predictable, but understanding is a good start. And in fields like physics or atmospheric physics, to understand why things happen the way they do happen, you need to know the forces. Forces from Newton's second law, forces related to acceleration. Acceleration is a change in velocity over some interval of time. And if you know how velocity is changing in time, now you can predict future velocities because if you know the current velocity and you know how it's changing in time, well, now you know the future velocity. But you can only know why those winds are doing what they're doing. In other words, how the tornado forms. If you know the forces and the forces are tied to things like temperature. Temperatures related to whether hot air rises or cold air sinks. Temperature variations horizontally are related to pressure changes horizontally and pressure changes horizontally, that's what accelerates wind as well. In the horizontal plane, we've put people on the moon. We've got GPS constellations of satellites doing all these crazy things these days. But here on Earth, we've never been able to measure temperature in a thunderstorm because a lot of the technologies we have don't penetrate rain and clouds very well. So we did something with very lightweight small sensors attached to balloons and it was kind of like the film Twister, actually, but actually more scientifically useful than what they did in Twister, but kind of same idea. We flood the storm with swarms of small probes that float through the storm but on small balloons. Biggest failure or learning experience, I'd like to think. I haven't had any single big failure that's had to lead to a complete transformation of my thinking. I think those are pretty rare with people. Usually what happens is every day they're really small failures and you make small course corrections. So every day I'm making course corrections. But I'd say one fundamental theme is that kind of realizing that even though I was maybe one of the top 5% of my class in high school, that as you climb up the ladder, there are a lot of darn smart people out there and most of us aren't going to be in that top 5%. The higher up we go and the more successful we go, at some point we get to a level where we're actually just average. Everybody's equal. And coming out of high school, if you're in the honors program, you think you're some big shot potentially because you're probably one of the top people at your high school. And then you get to the Schreyer Honors College and all of a sudden you look around, you're like, wow, you might actually just be average. That's still pretty darn good. You might be below average even, and that's still pretty darn good. Or you might be one of the top students even as an undergrad, and then you go to grad school. Well, now everybody in grad school is the smartest you too, or smarter. So yeah, it's hard to accept sometimes and at some point you're going to need help. You're going to have to ask for help and maybe you hadn't had to ask for help before. Yeah, that's life.
[00:56:29] Speaker B: Really. Good point. I like your notion of kind of the small daily failures and learnings and the course corrections. Now as a reward for those of you who are still listening, paul, can you share any just kind of crazy weather stories that you've experienced and knowing that we did actually have a tornado warning at University Park during moving weekend, what students could do if they face such a situation again.
[00:56:53] Speaker C: Yeah, so it's a tornado chaser.
I really am a scientist who studies tornadoes, but if somebody asks me what I do, just say tornado chaser, and they understand it's a lot easier than trying to explain fluid dynamics to them. But, yeah, I've seen crazy storms.
The hail is actually crazier than the tornado stuff. So losing windshields to hail, we've been in 25 minutes duration, baseball size hailstones, which that just completely destroys anything glass on the car, takes out headlights, takes out side mirrors.
It's pretty amazing to be inside of that. It's like you're getting just bombarded relentlessly by the atmosphere very loud. You can't even hear yourself screaming at other people in the car because it's so loud. What was the other thing you asked about? Sorry.
[00:57:48] Speaker B: So we had a tornado warning during move in week here at University Park. What kind of advice would you have for students to be prepared for a variety of extreme weather? In central Pennsylvania, we tend to get kind of the mild version of everything blizzards, occasional earthquake, occasional tornado, remnants of a hurricane. How should students prepare for those kind of situations?
[00:58:12] Speaker C: Yeah, so that's a great question about the tornado thing. So most dangerous tornado days are actually pretty well forecast these days. And in fact, there's usually what's called a tornado watch issued when conditions at least are conducive to tornado formation. And if a watch is issued for your area, there's no immediate action item. You shouldn't go to the basement or anything like that, but it's an alert to tell you that, okay, for the next few hours or however long the watch is in effect for, just pay attention. Situational awareness, that's a term, I think, that originates in the military. If the sky suddenly gets black and the rain is flying horizontally and you kind of remember, oh, we were under that tornado watch, then maybe it's time to take shelter or maybe turn the TV on. Or maybe nowadays we can push to your phone that there's a warning. And this is a recent development. In fact, this happened probably for the first time back in August when people were moving in. They probably never had a tornado warning pushed to their phone before. So they're like, whoa, what is this? Is this a joke? And at that point, when the warnings issue, that means that the event is already detected or it's imminent or there's very high likelihood. Now when it comes to tornado warnings. Tornadoes are such small events. Even if you're in a tornado warning, odds are that 100 meters wide vortex still probably won't hit your specific location. But it means that you should still do something because it's pretty darn close. It could hit you. You should definitely take action, but I think you should be thinking about this before the warning is issued, because if you haven't been thinking about what you do at a tornado and then the warning comes out, you might only have seconds to act it's too late at that point to start brainstorming a strategy. Really, when that watch comes out, you should kind of start thinking, all right, well, there's no immediate action item yet, but what would I do if a warning were to come out hours later? And I'd say if you're in a dorm or most buildings on the Penn State campus, these are engineered buildings, a lot of girders concrete, you should be fine. Just don't be near windows. So if you're in an office with windows, get in the hallway where there's no windows. If you really want to feel extra protected, get down to a bottom floor or basement or interior bathroom where there's a lot of steel pipes in the walls that can reinforce the walls. But big buildings like that are going to fare pretty well in all but the most absolutely extreme tornadoes, like the top one in the 10,000 type of event. If you're out in the open, though, like, let's say you're up at the Im Fields tornado warning comes out, that is not a good place to be. Or Beaver Stadium, that's going to require a whole nother podcast on what we'd have to do. Very complicated, don't have time for that. But I would say outdoors, hopefully you're taking shelter long before you'd get to the tornado warning part of the storm. So if you're out in the middle of a field, at some level, we all have to kind of be responsible for ourselves and exercise some common sense. The sky is dark and you hear thunder and there's lightning in the distance. You shouldn't be out there, so take shelter. The tornado is not going to dip down out of the sky 30 minutes ahead of where the thunder and lightning would be. The thunder and lightning would be preceding that part of the storm would precede the tornado threat area. So thunder and lightning is a great warning whether there's a tornado or not to get the heck out of there.
[01:01:43] Speaker B: That's really helpful. So if you're still listening, I hope that you are rewarded for that with that advice. Now, just to kind of wrap up parts here, Paul, are there any professors, friends, or colleagues that you would like to give a shout out to here, whether from your days as an undergrad or your current time in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences on faculty?
[01:02:05] Speaker C: Oh, sure, that's a good question. One of the professors I still remember distinctly is Professor Bomb from the Math department. I had him for Math 140. He just made that class really entertaining. That's all I'll say. He's probably retired by now.
[01:02:24] Speaker B: Is there any last piece of advice that you wanted to share with scholars on any of these topics that just hasn't organically come up in our conversation so far?
[01:02:33] Speaker C: Yeah, I think I would really recommend visiting faculty members during their office hours. A lot of people think office hours are only if you have. A problem. You're stuck on something, you want help, or you want to complain about an unfair test question. I mean, you can use office hours for that purpose, of course, but you can go to office hours to have a conversation about the subject of that class or about maybe a career decision or early career decision you're trying to make. Should I take this class or this class? Most faculty would be happy to have those conversations, and maybe they all wouldn't feel this way if I had a student drop in during my office. I mean, I've already fenced off that time. Now, if you drop in and I wasn't expecting you, well, then I might have to say, well, I'm busy. You'll have to come back some other time. But if you drop in during my fenced off office hour and just want to talk to me about something that goes beyond what we talked about in class, oh, my gosh, I'll chew your ear off for an hour. And those are the things faculty members really remember.
And when it comes time to asking for letters of reference or maybe you want to get hired into someone's research group because you need to find a home, maybe to do your honors thesis.
There are a lot of good students that faculty have to choose from, but what really stand out are students who are asking a lot of questions, tough questions. They hang around after class with follow up questions where they drop in at office hours to ask tough questions or just to have a conversation about the course in general. So faculty are probably more accessible than the average person might think.
[01:04:16] Speaker B: That is a great point. And coming full circle from what you thought the NFL was calling you about in 2014, great advice. Get to know your faculty. You've heard it on other episodes, so we're really just driving the point home. Paul, if a scholar wanted to reach out to you to learn more or find out when your office hours are to come by, even if they're not in one of your classes, how can they connect with you?
[01:04:38] Speaker C: Email is a great way. And you can track me down just by going to the meteorology department website. Or if you just google Markowski and tornado, you'll probably be able to find me, I suspect.
[01:04:50] Speaker B: And as our tradition here on following the Gong, if you were a flavor of Berkeley creamery ice cream, which would you be? And most importantly, as a scholar, alum. Why?
[01:05:01] Speaker C: I looked at what they serve, and I was thinking we'd need a new flavor. It would have to be tornado twist, chocolate and vanilla soft serve. Yeah, I'm not sure the other ones work for me. Sorry.
[01:05:12] Speaker B: If there are any students in the college of agricultural sciences, particularly in the food science department, and you want to take that idea and run with it, paul just gave you a really good idea to take back to the creamery. Dr. Paul Markowski, thank you so much for all of your insights on weather, on being in the Stem fields, in academia, on exercise and getting to know your faculty. Lots of good insights. Really appreciate you coming on the show today.
[01:05:39] Speaker C: Sure thing. Thanks again for having me. It was a pleasure and an honor to be invited to do this.
[01:05:51] Speaker A: Thank you, scholars, for listening and learning with us today. We hope you will take something with you that will contribute to how you shape the world. This show proudly supports the Shrier Honors College Emergency Fund benefiting scholars experiencing unexpected financial hardship. You can make a difference at raise. psu.edu forward slash schreyer. Please be sure to hit the relevant subscribe like or Follow button on whichever platform you are engaging with us on today. You can follow the college on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn to stay up to date on news, events and deadlines. If you have questions about the show or a scholar alum who'd like to join us as a guest here on following the Gone, please connect with me at scholar alumni at psu.edu. Until next time, please stay well. And we are.