For Schneider, Science is Liberating

David Schneider, Project Scientist, Climate and Global Dynamics

What influenced you to pursue a career in science?

There was no one singular event, like being struck by lightning in my backyard. In college, I was drawn to the geology major because I liked the road trips and spending time outside. Eventually it became apparent that science combined several of my talents and interests, including making observations, analyzing data, writing, and travel. In retrospect, science was liberating. I grew up in a community that was strongly stratified by wealth, and there were many conspicuous status symbols like luxury cars, designer clothes and huge mansions that my family didn’t have. Science doesn’t care about any of that. It’s about making observations, forming hypothesis, and following the data. It doesn’t care who you are.

Geology taught me to read the landscape and rock record in terms of climate change. A few glaciology classes and lectures about ice cores sparked my interest in the polar regions, where climate change and the paleoclimate records are more tangible than anywhere else. Researching grad schools, I was lucky enough to connect with a young professor who had funding for an Antarctic ice coring expedition, and it didn’t take much to convince me to sign up. By chance, my graduate education took me to the University of Washington, where I was surrounded by experts in climate change and climate dynamics, and I’m fortunate if a small fraction of that expertise rubbed off on me. I came to NCAR with my paleoclimate background, and not much experience in modeling. My current role keeps me firmly planted in the observational side but allows me to contribute to the modeling efforts. My job hasn’t involved field work lately, but living in Colorado makes up for that.

Who are you at work and what does a typical workday look like?

I work in the Climate Analysis Section within NCAR’s Climate and Global Dynamics Laboratory. Currently, my work falls into two broad categories, developing the Climate Data Guide (climatedatguide,, and using models and observations to interpret Antarctic and Southern Ocean change. I’m a Project Scientist, which kind of means a jack of all trades. One minute I’m deep in website code and the next minute I’m making a plot of the sea level pressure in a model or dataset, or preparing a presentation. On any given day there is always plenty to do, whether starting a new model run, writing a progress report on a grant, or working on a year-old manuscript. At NCAR, there is always a lot to keep you occupied beyond your own personal work, such as attending seminars, meeting scientific visitors, or participating in a committee.

Who are you outside of work?

I like to mountain bike, trail run, ski, hike, and take pictures. I’d like to improve my skills relevant to home living in areas such as gardening, carpentry, and cooking.

What has been your favorite work-related experience?

I enjoy meeting people from around the world. It is great to be surrounded by highly motivated, interesting and intelligent people, from wherever they come.

The Power of One: If you could thank only one person for academic or career support, who would it be?

If I name someone here, I will leave several people out, but I would thank Eric Steig, my PhD advisor, who helped my pivot from rocks to climate, sent me to Antarctica, and has generally served as a good role model for work-life balance and keeping focused on the science in the midst of the political storms that climate research faces.

One-minute mentor

What advice would you offer to someone interested in a career like your own?

Do science if you enjoy it and it’s fulfilling. Don’t do it because you’ve heard that there’s money in it or that the nation needs more scientists and engineers. Have confidence in yourself, and wear a thick skin because your work will be scrutinized and criticized every day. Take advantage of that as an opportunity to continuously improve.

David Schneider, Project Scientist, Climate and Global Dynamics