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Carynelisa Haspel

For this installment of Senior Member Insights, we talk with Carynelisa Haspel. Currently an associate professor in the Institute of Earth Sciences at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Carynelisa teaches, among other topics, courses on radiative transfer and remote sensing. She serves as Head of the Undergraduate Department of Earth Sciences, Head of the Undergraduate Specialization in Climate, Atmospheric Sciences, and Oceanography (CAO), and Head of the Graduate Department of Atmospheric Sciences. Her research involves investigating the physical and chemical properties of particles in the atmosphere and ocean and how those properties influence the transfer of solar radiation.

How have you overcome particularly difficult decisions in your career thus far?

My first difficult decision was very early on, towards the end of my undergraduate degree in physics. Though like most physics majors, I embarked on the major in physics in order to be “a physicist,” and though arguably I was a successful enough physics student, I decided to look into graduate programs in other fields that apply physics and not just in pure physics. Indeed, once I had received acceptance letters to several different graduate programs, I chose a graduate program in atmospheric sciences.

What enabled me to make the decision was to consider that what was much more important than the label of “a physicist” was pursuing a field of research with open questions that intrigued me and inspired me to find out more. Of course, this same field of research also allowed me to tackle questions in optics, radiative transfer and physics in general, so essentially nothing was lost.

My second difficult decision was more recent, and a decision that many scientists face—how to balance the obligations of being a scientist with raising a family. I decided to spend some years committing myself to serving science via teaching well, advising more undergraduate students than graduate students, overseeing younger faculty and pursuing more theoretical, small-scale research projects than large, collaborative, international or experimental research projects.

What enabled me to make that decision was recognizing that it was the right decision for my particular circumstances at that particular time, and that in fact, everyone would benefit—including myself. So once again, essentially nothing was lost.

Over your career, have there been many changes in how you network and the professional resources you rely on to stay active and engaged with your field?

This has certainly changed since I first began my career! Whereas I previously attended more conferences, including the social events associated with such conferences, I now take more advantage of the electronic age. I conduct more scientific correspondence with colleagues via email, I review many more manuscripts, grant proposals, theses, etc. I also do try to take advantage of all on-line opportunities: web pages with high-level academic content, recorded lectures, webinars, virtual conference sessions, research networking sites such as ResearchGate and scientific-community digests. I have also expanded my membership in scientific societies, such as The Optical Society, and I have joined some societies as a new member.

What is one piece of advice that you wish you were given as a student/early in your career?

Well, I actually have two such pieces of advice. The first: spend more time talking with other students, faculty, and colleagues of all sorts. As young scientists, we have a natural wariness not to reveal too much, lest someone publish our idea before we do. However, over time, I have come to find that generally the system works well. Speaking with others fosters progress. Furthermore, we can all use more mutual constructive criticism.

The second piece of advice: always work on a few different projects at once. Once again, as young scientists, we have a natural tendency to want to focus on a project, do it well, finish it, and then move on to the next project.

Obviously, being unrealistic and taking on too much at one time is not a good strategy either, but having a few open and ongoing projects at the same time is a good strategy. When you reach a stumbling block with one project, you can make progress on one of the other projects and then come back again a bit refreshed to tackle the first project. Even better, sometimes working on the second or third project reveals the very idea that gets you over the stumbling block you encountered in the first project.

What is one question you had as a student/early professional that never seemed to be answered? Have you found the answer?

I would not say that I could have formulated this specific question as a student or early professional, but it is a question that I find myself coming back to over time. There seems to be a certain simplicity in the description of the interaction between radiation and matter on the very small scale (e.g., single electrons, single atoms, or single molecules) and on the very large scale (e.g., bulk media), but to a much lesser extent on the intermediate scale. I wonder if there is a simplicity of description on the intermediate scale that the scientific community has not yet discovered.

What habits do you frequently rely on that help you to succeed?

Effective time management: prioritizing, being realistic about how long each task takes, communicating well with people who I need to coordinate with, and taking full advantage of “spare time.”

At this point in your career, what are you most looking forward to next?

My life as a scientist is great just as it is.

If you weren’t in the sciences, what would be your dream career?

Once upon a time, I thought about being an architect, but I suppose that if I stopped being a scientist right now, I would probably find my way into teaching at a school or tutoring children outside of school. I have always held a high respect for teachers (my mother was a kindergarten and first-grade teacher), but as a teacher of undergraduate and graduate courses myself and as a parent, I have come to appreciate the institution of teaching and the necessity of teaching the next generation well even more.