Humans of Physics VI: Beatrice Ellerhoff

If you ask an author what their everyday life looks like, they will hardly ever answer: “Well, I’m just writing!” because combining letters into a meaningful text requires much more than the mere act of ‘writing’. Let me compare the work of a PhD student with that of the author: To say that my PhD is about performing computations on a black screen simply wouldn’t say enough. Both writing a book and calculating climate variables involves long research, practice of methodology, discussion with colleagues, many imperfect trials, and tedious bureaucracy. It requires the will to gain a holistic understanding of a specific topic,and the vision of contributing to society.

In a typical day, I might have – now virtual – meetings with colleagues, read research papers, do plain calculations on a sheet of paper, supervise students, and -most importantly- correct errors in the code. In all love for these mundane things, let’s be honest: Nothing compares to discussing a fresh result with colleagues and a warm pot of coffee when all errors are fixed. It really warms a PhD student‘s heart! While making small steps everyday, it is important not to lose sight of the big picture. In my case, that is to characterize long-term variations in climate signals which are relevant to the improvement of climate predictions and to the attribution of recent global heating to human activities.

As many PhD students, I am very much aware that my contribution can only be a small part in climate research which however gives the validating feeling of working in a large, international, and colorful community. In the end, whether we are authors or physicists, we are driven by curiosity and the joy of difficult challenges. The author will one day hold their book in their hands. I’m not there yet*. Until then, I will enjoy the daily challenges to squeeze a little more out of my understanding and continue the thesis “page by page”.

Beatrice is a PhD student at the Institute of Environmental Physics in Heidelberg, investigating complex dynamics of Earth’s climate. Searching for overlaps between theoretical approaches and experimental data, she seeks to access the mechanisms of climate variability. *Her PhD is still far from being finished, but you can find her book on quantum computing here: https://bit.ly/36NNq0S

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