–contribution by Navid Ghajarnia (NG) to Hallway Conversations (HC)
Dr. Nicholas J. Kinar (NK) is the Assistant Director of the Smart Water Systems Laboratory at University of Saskatchewan with the Global Institute for Water Security. Many hydrologists know Nicholas from his Twitter page, Hydrology Paper of the Day (@KinarNicholas)! At YHS, we decided to have a Hallway Conversation with Nicholas to get to know him better and to introduce him from a different perspective to the hydrology society. During the interview, he was kind, enthusiastic and full of positive energy! Read this interview and you’ll get a new perspective and a warm feeling when you read Hydrology Paper of the Day on Twitter from now on!
NG: Can you tell us a little about your background, your formal education?
NK: I was a student at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada until I completed my PhD degree. From undergraduate to graduate work, and by progressing from an MSc to a PhD, I was asked by my professors to stay at the university. I gained an appreciation of the benefits of regional education and a strong sense of place. I’m also not the type of person to travel between geographical locations and I tend to be a homebody, so I simply stayed at the same institution. My MSc and PhD degrees were associated with hydrology, remote sensing, and electronic circuits. I think this worked out well for me since the University of Saskatchewan is a well-established hydrology and water science university and I believed that I could contribute in some way to the program. By now, I’ve managed to define myself in some way, so here is my definition: I am a hydrologist and environmental scientist with a research and teaching focus on custom-designed electronic circuits for environmental monitoring. I conduct cross-disciplinary research and teaching activities related to how novel mathematical models of environmental phenomena can be utilized along with these circuits to obtain measurements of hydrological processes.
To learn about the research of hydrologists, and as a form of outreach, I conduct a Hydrology Paper of the Day on Twitter. Every day, I read and share one paper. I feel this enriches the lives of myself and other people around the world, and I have learned so much about hydrology from this activity! I am also an Editor and Reviewer for the Consilience and the ConsiliARTe journals, where I help an amazing community of poets, artists, scientists and writers communicate science and the arts.
NG: Tell us a little bit about the hydrological heritage of the University of Saskatchewan?
NK: During the 1960s Saskatchewan was very agrarian and it was generally called for many years the breadbasket of Canada or the breadbasket of North America because Saskatchewan produced a lot of the grain that was exported around North America. At that time when climate change had not had much impact, this region would receive a lot of snow and was very cold during the winter while during the summer, it was very episodic and hot. During those years, there was a professor in Agricultural Engineering by the name of Donald M. Gray–considered to be the Father of Canadian Hydrology–who came to Saskatoon and decided to establish a National Hydrology Research Center here in Saskatchewan. At that time, thanks to heavy snow and cold climate during the winter as well as hot and episodic weather during the summer, Saskatchewan was a fantastic place to study hydrology and Don Gray was in the right place at the right time! There is still a lab storage area on our campus where you can see some of the original equipment that Don Gray used. A fascinating point about his work is that he was responsible for starting automated measurements of solar radiation, snow depth, precipitation and other hydrologic variables in Canada; he was also the first researcher in Canada to start developing electronic equipment to measure and quantify hydrological processes. Don, his graduate students and co-authors were also among the first researchers in Canada to use computers in hydrological modeling. I am the academic grandchild of Don Gray because my supervisor John Pomeroy was his graduate student. That is why I think Saskatchewan is an interesting place to be and I think I somehow found this place because I was born here in Saskatoon, and I have never been outside of North America! So, the perspective that I am giving you is really from this particular region (Nicholas says with a smile), and I am always ready to learn from others with different perspectives from other regions of the world.
NG: Please let us know more about the Hydrology Paper of the Day Twitter page. How did you come up with the idea of this page?
NK: Sure! A lot of things in my life happened because I was simply at a given place or time, and the Hydrology Paper of the Day was like that. You sometimes just fall into certain opportunities! The story begins during the summer of 2018. I was the type of person who never took a holiday and I’ve always used all my time to do my work. But during the summer of 2018 I decided to take a holiday (for the first time). So, I went home and of course I did a few things. I did a little bit of work–rearranging items around my house–and at the same time I also noticed that some people I knew were active on social media. At that time, I did not have any accounts on social media since I preferred to directly call people when I wanted to talk to them. Then I decided to create an account on Twitter. So, the first time I ever used social media was in 2018!
I simply created an account with my name and the next question is, “What am I going to put up on social media?” I didn’t really know! I took a couple of pictures of me walking around a few different places, but I didn’t feel that was too interesting. I thought about what I could do every day to be able to engage an audience of friends on social media. As you know, there are some people who place posts online and what they are doing always looks interesting. I looked around my home office and noticed that I have printouts of journal articles as papers! I still print out papers when I want to read them. (At this point in the conversation, Nicholas raises the pile of papers that he has printed to read for his Twitter page.) So, I thought, why don’t I read and summarize one paper a day and share it with everyone on Twitter?! Every paper that I put up on the Hydrology Paper of the Day, I read from the very beginning to the very end. I do this every day but not necessarily just for creating a Twitter post! It is kind of a first for myself, but I also like to share things with other people. I realized that if I summarize one Hydrology Paper of the Day and I share it online, I do two things at the same time. Number one, I learn something by doing this myself and, number two, I can share a paper with my friends online. After one or two months, I started feeling good about this because I found that a lot of people liked it! They said “Wow, thank you for sharing our paper!” So, I continued doing this activity and it just took off over time. I haven’t missed a single day for three years now, through rain and shine and bad weather and Internet outages and sickness and good health!
NG: Nicholas, what you are doing is really fantastic and is indeed very impactful for the hydrologic society. I personally felt amazing and received many great feedbacks after you shared my paper on your Twitter account. Thank you! Please share with us if you have got any interesting feedback from people whose papers were shared on your Twitter page?
NK: A lot of people have replied and said “thank you” because they have been contacted by others, and sometimes by well-known scientists in their field after a paper was shared as a Hydrology Paper of the Day. I think this is wonderful because I’ve helped to share knowledge. The contacting tends to happen more for other people than it happens for myself when I share my own research on Twitter (Nicholas says with a smile). It is a good thing that other people benefit from what I am doing, and it is kind of my droplet of water into some sort of global tank of knowledge that ripples out over time! I’m happy to be able to bring people together and help them create networks. Some research has shown that it’s hard to gain traction when promoting your own research on social media, but Hydrology Paper of the Day is different: it’s widely read, and I think that people actually like it. When I started it up, I didn’t really intend it to go this way and I did it mainly for myself–maybe to bring happiness to a couple of friends– but like a snowball, it started to roll, and we are getting all of this interest from major university groups and consortiums! Even the Journal of Hydrological Processes is following me on Twitter, they were one of the first journals to follow me. I think it has helped the research community because a lot of people who are following Hydrology Paper of the Day are also writing good papers and sometimes when you read their papers, you’ll find out that they cite papers that were once featured on Hydrology Paper of the Day. I think people are starting to incorporate ideas shared into their own research and the project is also pushing along personal development with regard to hydrology and research. I am therefore happy about the Hydrology Paper of the Day project (says Nicholas with a satisfied smile on his face).
NG: I feel like the most valuable reward for the job that you are doing is the feedback that you get from people.
NK: Yes, that’s what really makes it worthwhile. I am going to tell you, it is not easy to do this every day! There are other things that come up—such as deadlines—and sometimes I am also working on another paper and have other engagements! Reading one paper takes an hour or two but I’ll do that in the evening as a personal hobby. I summarize the papers and a lot of people like that!
About two or three months ago, the Canadian Water Resource Association (CWRA) asked me if I could serialize Hydrology Paper of the Day papers as a biweekly paper series for the CWRA newsletter! I said “Yes, of course” so a lot of the Hydrology Paper of the Day papers also go into that newsletter every two weeks and that, once again, increases the audience for sharing of publications. It’s also interesting to see these offshoots! It’s like growing a plant or a tree: sometimes the tree will grow taller than yourself and all these little shoots start going off in different directions. So, we are going to see what happens in the next—maybe 20 years—if I am still doing this!
NG: Yeah, and that’s the beauty of life to see what happens next (we both laugh)! OK, Nicholas please let us know what inspired you to pursue research in your field (hydrology)?
NK: In the latter part of the 20th century, scientists were communicating the importance of climate change, and during that time I was deeply influenced by the need to understand hydrological processes in the context of climate change. When I entered graduate school, I found that researchers were working so much on models of hydrological processes, but very little research was being conducted on how observations of these processes were being made. I therefore thought this was a niche where I might be able to contribute. I also strongly believed that with climate change and extreme events, someone had to find novel ways to quantify hydrological processes to provide earlier warnings of drought, floods, fire and other environmental hazards. I think this area of research will be of increasing importance in the upcoming decades as the world becomes more connected and interwoven with Internet-of-Things (IoT) technology.
NG: Did you envision yourself in your current position? If so or if not, what is the most important decision you made to help you get there and why?
NK: I’m currently the Assistant Director of the Smart Water Systems Lab and a Research Scientist with the Global Water Futures Program at the University of Saskatchewan. I didn’t envision myself in my current position, and I was asked to fulfil this role. The most important decision that I made to get to my current position was to always try your hardest, no matter what life gives you. Sometimes I am successful, and sometimes I am not, but I have always tried to be the best that I can be, given the circumstances. I also try to listen to the perspectives of all people, and to help as many people as I can, so I think this personal philosophy has made me somewhat successful.
NG: What would be your advice for early career researchers to plan their pathways?
NK: As an early-career researcher, you should: (1) Find your own voice and research path in an ever-changing world, and don’t be discouraged when you encounter people who provide fierce opposition instead of assistance. (2) Read at least one research paper per day and try to learn at least one idea per day related to your sub-field of hydrology. (3) Don’t live life for citations or h-indices since you might become bitter, disillusioned, or vain. There are always researchers who are better and worse than you, yet everyone contributes to the field of hydrology in some way. The progression of hydrology as a discipline is not necessarily made exclusively by those researchers who are well-known and financed by lavish research grants, but by the efforts of many people who contribute to this scientific endeavor, and you are one of them. (4) If you are passionate about your research, you will always be successful. (5) Don’t be discouraged if you are wrong; find places and situations where you can fail gracefully and try new ideas: most successes only arise after extensive trial-and-error. (7) Work on important problems, but also don’t be afraid to work on the problems that are just important to you. (8) Help others to achieve research and life goals; by doing so you are contributing to the future success of all hydrologists, environmental scientists, human beings and societies. (9) Despite the dire predictions related to career opportunities, there will always be a place in a changing world for you as a researcher; don’t be afraid to contribute in whatever way you can.
Please choose to review papers if asked to do so, since this task is not often performed by many researchers, and by reviewing papers you tend to learn what works and what does not work with respect to research. When reviewing the paper, also be kind and objective, and always ensure that your remarks are constructive. Return the review promptly to ensure that the review process can continue; by reviewing the paper you are helping the progression of hydrology as a science. Also, think twice before rejecting a paper: most papers are not completely incorrect and sometimes the writers of the paper are not native English speakers. Scientific progress should continue regardless of whether someone writes well, and often non-English speaking scientific writers have something important to share. Also, don’t consider the geographical location of the writers or the field site when conducting a review; sometimes the best science is performed at a distant location and there are also interesting hydrological processes occurring in your own backyard or region.
NG: During your career journey so far, have you ever felt frustrated at some points? If yes, how did you handle it and what is your advice for early career scientists, especially those who have completed their PhD and are looking for their first job?!
NK: That’s an excellent question and yes, I did! When I was a grad student, I was very uncertain about what I should do! I think that’s the case for a lot of people when you go to university, and you find that particularly at the graduate level there are always people who are better prepared than you are. Sometimes I was very overwhelmed and out of place. So, I thought to myself, okay, how am I going to get through this? At first, I didn’t know what to do and I was completely overwhelmed. I think this feeling lasted for about half a year to a year. Then I started getting used to the grad school experience and questioned whether I was in the right place or not! It can be like being in a cave and, as you go along, it gets darker and darker. I feel as if I am the type of person that is still exploring and, of course, there are other people with you in this exploration. Sometimes if you are reaching into the dark, you must move forward with help associated with the work of other people. You must realize there are giants in this world, and they are the people who came before you and were great hydrologists, scientists, and great people. I think every time that you feel like you want to quit or it’s becoming overwhelming, if you look at the work of other people and what they did before you, it will bring light for you in the conceptual cave of scientific exploration. I think it is a good strategy and always remember there are people to illuminate that cave with you.
Sometimes you have good experiences and sometimes bad ones. In grad schools and particularly in the scientific world you have to deal with a lot of people who are generally not going to support your ideas or want to help you, and you have to realize that these people are simply walking their own path and exploring their own part of this cave and if they get a little bit of light in their corner of the world that is good as well because it contributes to the illumination of the whole cave for everyone.
NG: How has hydrology science changed over the past years? Theoretically and practically!
NK: I think that hydrology has progressively become more quantitative, hundreds of mathematical models have been produced, and researchers have written more papers than ever before. With this additional data and associated conceptual understanding, there is an increasing need for synthesis, to bring together disparate areas of hydrology and to better understand processes. Many hydrologists have worked on broad but geographically limited areas of hydrology, such as processes that occur in a catchment or region, but there is a need to generalize these studies to better understand processes at a global scale. Researchers therefore need to work together to understand processes. Pick any hydrological process such as infiltration, snowmelt, or runoff. There is a good understanding of how these processes operate on a scale associated with a study area or region, but not so much of an understanding on how these processes operate over a range of spatial and temporal scales; moreover, how variable are these processes, particularly at the interfaces between geographical areas, ecotones or regions? There is also a need for novel instrumentation and remote sensing to quantify processes at scales to provide inputs to models. Most importantly, hydrologists have learned that we need to understand human processes in conjunction with physical processes. All hydrological systems occupy some interfaces with human lives and activities, and it is not possible to ignore the human context.
NG: How do you see the future of hydrologic science?
NK: The last few years and current events have provided stark reminders of how hydrological processes are influenced by climate change. Flooding, drought and extreme events are frequent occurrences. I anticipate hydrology becoming more of an established discipline within the 21st century and this might also be offered by many universities as a separate degree program. There will also be more researchers working on climate change issues since sea level rise, flooding and drought will affect human settlements, food production, and health. Moreover, I think that in the distant future, extraplanetary hydrology will become more studied due to the presence of water on other planets. In all these environments, there will be a need for novel indices to quantify the magnitude and severity of hydrological processes for early warning of extreme events. As hydrology continues to develop, I anticipate an emphasis on the development of educational materials and research related to the scholarship of teaching and learning.
NG: What would you consider as the most important open question in hydrology science that needs to be addressed?
NK: How can human beings adapt to climate change and extreme events, while using information provided by models, sensors and systems at different geographical scales for prediction and forecasting?
NG: How do you see the interactions between hydrologic science and other disciplines to address societal challenges?
NK: Large datasets and computer model applications for prediction and forecasting require principles of computer science, so I think that the lines between Computer Science and Hydrology will begin to blur, particularly when dealing with datasets collected at many geographical scales. There will also be contributions from Sociology, Psychology and Human Geography as interactions between hydrological processes continue to influence and affect communities and people on a global scale.
NG: What technological advances do you think will be key for hydrological advancements over the next decade?
NK: Novel sensors and systems will be used to measure and predict hydrological processes at a number of scales. There is also a need to use the large datasets collected from these sensors for forecasting applications. The Internet and networked systems will continue to play a role in the dissemination of data for purposes such as precision agriculture as well as water and energy apportionment in the context of civil engineering infrastructure and institutional policy development.
Navid Ghajarnia is a researcher at the Department of Physical Geography, Stockholm University. His research is mainly focused on evaluating and enhancing the representation of hydrological processes in Earth System Models.