Women in Research
Texas Tech University professor Katharine Hayhoe, co-director of the Climate Science Center, tells female students who are interested in an academic career to learn from those who've gone before, offer a hand to those behind, don't be afraid to fail, and don't spend your life on something you're not excited about.
Climate Science Center's Katharine Hayhoe
During Spring 2020, Texas Tech celebrates women faculty who exemplify excellence in research, scholarship, creative activity, teaching, and mentoring.
Katharine Hayhoe, a professor in the Department of Political Science and co-director of the Climate Science Center, focuses her research toward developing and applying high-resolution climate projections to evaluate the future impacts of climate change on human society and the natural environment.
She has published over 125 peer-reviewed abstracts and publications and served as lead author on key reports for the U.S. Global Change Research Program and the National Academy of Sciences, including the Second, Third and Fourth U.S. National Climate Assessments and the 2017 Climate Science Special Report.
In the question-and-answer session that follows, Hayhoe shares the basics of her success.
What inspired you to work in your field/area of expertise?
My undergraduate degree is in physics and astronomy, and I was planning to pursue a graduate degree in astrophysics when, to complete my degree, I needed another breadth requirement. I noticed there was a new class on climate science being offered and thought it looked interesting—so I took it, and it changed my life.
I'd always thought of climate change as an environmental issue—an issue that environmentalists cared about and would try to fix, while the rest of us wished them well. Instead, in that class I learned that climate change is, as the U.S. military now calls it, a threat multiplier. It takes the most serious humanitarian issues confronting humanity today—hunger, poverty, lack of access to clean water, injustice, refugee crises and more—and it makes them worse.
Once I knew that, how could I not do everything I could to help fix this huge global challenge?
Who inspired you to pursue academia?
A love of learning and science runs in my family. My great-great grandmother Suzanne was a governess; though not particularly well off, she still managed to send all four of her daughters to university in the 1910s, a time when it was unusual for women to pursue higher education. Her daughter Doris did the same; in the 1930s, my grandmother Emilie earned a degree in science education from McGill University, where she worked as a research assistant for Dr. Vibert Douglas, the first Canadian woman to become an astrophysicist and the first woman president of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. Emilie didn't work outside the home after she married, but she passed her love of science and learning on to her eight children, all of whom also graduated from university and three of whom, including my father, went on to earn multiple graduate degrees. So my inspiration to pursue learning through academia dates back not only years, but generations!
What would you tell your female students interested in pursuing an academic career?
Learn from those who've gone before, and offer a hand to those behind you. Don't be afraid to ask questions along the way and don't be afraid to fail: it's from our failures that we learn our greatest lessons.
Most of all, though, follow your heart and find your passion. Don't spend your life on something you're not excited about, that doesn't allow you to express who you are and what you care about.
Each one of us has a unique set of abilities and perspectives that no one else has. Our contribution can't come from anyone else: it has to come from us. So most of all, be your unique self!