What do you do with an MS or PhD in rocket science?

You could become an astronaut! While that's not totally out of question, my peers in graduate school found positions in the optical industry, software industry, automobile industry, telecommunication industry, as project manager for the space agency or stayed in national research labs and academia like me. One colleague founded his own instrumentation company. Undergraduate and graduate students whom I advised became city software administrator, space shuttle engineer, high school physics teacher, oceanographer and professor, gas turbine engineer. Graduates have told me that project work and team experience is what employers are looking for. You will learn how to scientifically reason, including with your advisor. Some individuals discovered that becoming a scientist is a long and tedious path, with sometimes frustrating experiences, and they moved on. What does it take? Resilience, grit, conscientiousness, creativity, focus, making sense of seemingly useless data, and, of course, curiosity and excitement about nature, the atmosphere and space surrounding Earth.

What's still to discover in Atmospheric and Space Science?

Perhaps the allure of being a rocket scientist or handling a 2-megawatt radar beam has faded a bit. Nevertheless, it is exhilarating to see a 1000-pound payload being launched, after being hand built by dozens of highly skilled workers and engineers, simulated, shaken and tested again and again, with YOUR experiment on it, which YOU have carefully designed and integrated, so that nothing can go wrong, and it is finally launched from some remote site in the middle of nowhere, with a fiery tail and sonic boom, and the data show you a piece and conditions of our atmosphere which no one has seen before... Radar may sound less exciting, but you can learn how to efficiently handle and process big data and carefully extract valuable, new information and insight in neutral and plasma processes that no one has done or considered...

Atmospheric and space science has long embraced the catch phrases "interdisciplinary" and "systems science". Many physical systems interact with each other from small to global scales. We don't understand yet how wind and weather near the surface causes the many small and few gigantic waves and superfast wind jets in the upper atmosphere, and how to predict "space weather" in the ionosphere and low-earth orbit. How does climate change affect the upper atmosphere and satellite drag? How does neutral dynamics couple with the electrodynamics of the ionosphere and magnetosphere and vice versa? What does a solar flare do to this coupled system? What role play the millions of tiny meteoroids burning up in the upper atmosphere? How can we apply our limited knowledge about turbulence to atmospheric and space physics?

Answers don't come easy. They require the effort by many scientists collaborating all over the world. A single rocket or one hour of radar measurements may not contribute much by itself, but must be put into context with previous or complementary measurements, from lidar, satellites, and more and more important, with physical models of the atmosphere-ionosphere system, like the Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model (WACCM). Every experimental method has its merits and shortfalls and has to be carefully examined and mined for bits of knowledge to be shared and publicized.

Why Clemson?

You may know that Clemson University is well known for U.S. college football (National Champion 2016). However, it is also the public land-grant university in the state of South Carolina, one of two comprehensive research universities in the state. As in similar institutions, engineering and computing is its bread and butter, and in the newly formed College of Science, Physics and Astronomy is a successful program with significant research funding. Atmospheric and Space Physics is an established group in the department with currently about 14 faculty, postdocs, graduate and undergraduates involved in research and attending workshops and conferences. We conduct a weekly seminar and offer graduate courses in atmospheric and ionospheric physics for our students.

Why not give it a try?