Women @ Energy: Jennifer Comstock
Dr. Jennifer Comstock is currently the interim associate director of the Atmospheric Chemistry & Meteorology group at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. She is also a member of the ARM Aerial Facility (AAF), a team of scientists who conduct aircraft-based field campaigns for the DOE's ARM program. She currently serves as the AAF field campaign director and data liaison, and has participated in 12 different field campaigns.
Dr. Comstock's scientific research focuses on understanding physical processes that influence cloud lifecycle using remote sensing and computational modeling techniques. She earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Colorado and a doctorate in meteorology from the University of Utah. She was awarded the Peter B. Wagner Memorial Award for Women in Atmospheric Sciences in 1998 and promotes atmospheric science to young women and minorities in the community through participation in workshops and school visits.
1) What inspired you to work in STEM?
I was always very interested in math and science and explored biology, genetics, physics, and astronomy before finally deciding on atmospheric sciences. Opportunities in elementary school to do hands-on science and experiments was a big part of why I loved it – it wasn’t just learning from a book. Additionally, my love of the outdoors inspired my curiosity to ask questions about the natural world. Finally, a summer internship during my undergraduate years showed me that I could combine these interests and really cemented my desire to enter the science community.
2) What excites you about your work at the Energy Department?
The people and the possibilities. If you have a big idea, you can look around and find the expertise to tackle it. Collaboration is necessary to solve the big challenges we face as a nation, and the diversity of resources offered by DOE make it possible to tackle these challenges. Plus, the people I work with are top notch – they have integrity and make it fun!
3) How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?
I think that science education has to start at a really young age – elementary school or even pre-school. We have to provide hands-on experience, not just book-based learning and memorization. We also need to encourage girls to think outside the box, ask questions, and not be afraid to raise their hands in class – too often peer pressure prevents them from trying to get involved. We need to provide them with experience and exposure to women scientists across all types of scientific disciplines so they understand the range of options. And it’s very important to have good mentors along the way.
4) Do you have tips you’d recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?
I think of science as more than performing an experiment or creating a model. It’s about developing scientific questions and thinking about the bigger picture and putting all the pieces together. It’s equally important to have good communications skills, both verbal and written. And I highly recommend pursuing experience-based internships – they’re invaluable.
5) When you have free time, what are your hobbies?
Anything outdoors – hiking, skiing, biking, climbing, and sharing experiences with my family. I also like baking artisan style breads – like you might see in a European bistro!