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Cath Senior - Strategic Head of Science

How long have you worked at the Met Office?

I joined the Met Office when I finished university in 1986 – a long time ago now!

What is your position?

I started out as a graduate scientist and today, I’m a Strategic Head in Science – Head of Understanding Climate Change, to be specific – with 25 people working for me. When I graduated, I knew I wanted to do scientific research but I was really keen to combine theory with hands-on practical application. That’s what drew me here rather than working in the academic sector; I knew I’d get the best of both worlds. Through our research on important issues like climate change, we directly influence government decisions and have a positive impact on people’s lives. 

What attracted you to the Met Office?

When I left university, I was really interested in understanding the physics and dynamics of the atmosphere. Since I’ve been here, I’ve applied this to climate modelling and understanding climate change. The Met Office carries out a wide range of weather and climate research, so your initial interest might not be where you finally end up, as you often end up wanting to experience other areas. There’s lots of flexibility to move around and explore new opportunities, which is great.

Even though I’m in a managerial position now and don’t do as much of my own research anymore, I still feel greatly involved and I have a real hand in the work that goes on in my team. Of course, there’s a lot more management and corporate activity at this level but that’s just the route I’ve chosen personally. I wanted to manage a larger strategic area and push ahead on a number of important issues, through the work of my team. 

What is a typical day?

No two days are the same here and I’ve lots of different responsibilities. As well as the things you’d expect like managing the work of my staff, writing papers and attending meetings there’s a number of other activities that keep me busy. I’m on several national and international committees so I have a strong links with the UK academic community and scientists worldwide within the climate modelling and climate change communities. I co-chair a key science strategy group with UK research councils and Universities which is working to better integrate UK science on weather and climate. As an organisation, the Met Office is focused on delivering world class service to our customers, so I spend quite a lot of time checking that’s happening. It’s diverse, varied and challenging - but that’s what I like.

Best thing about working for the Met Office?

One of the good things about working here is that I’ve managed to combine a rewarding career with family life. The Met Office has been excellent in supporting me while I raise a young family. When I had my first child, I asked to work three days a week: I outlined how this could work and, after discussion, it was agreed. Now my children are older, I work while they’re at school. I do more hours in term time so I can spend time with them in the holidays. I’ve had a variety of managers throughout my career and they’ve all been very happy to be flexible and make something work. It really makes the difference. It’s given me a strong motivation to do my absolute best. That’s something I’ve always found with part time people who work for me – they give a lot in the hours that they’re here. I know people working in other jobs who haven’t had that degree of flexibility and it’s meant that they’ve often had to give up their careers as they can’t make it work. So, I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to balance family life and still progress and move forward in my career. 

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