New YHS President: Faranak Tootoonchi

Faranak (FT) is the incoming President for the Young Hydrologic Society. Here the outgoing President Lina (LS) interviews her about what it is like finishing the PhD, why she would recommend people to join YHS, and what she plans for the future.

LS:  You just finished your PhD. Congratulations! How does it feel?

FT: It feels great but a bit sad as well. It feels good, because I actually wrapped up this chapter. At the same time, it is sad not to be a student anymore. I feel a bit nostalgic because I really had good time as a PhD student in Uppsala university.

Picture taken the night before the day of Faranak’s defense.

LS: What was your favourite memory of your PhD?

FT: I have two favourite moments I would say. One is the first time I was in EGU, seeing a very big community of researchers, many cool and different people from different parts of the world. It made me feel like there is room for everyone within this community. The second great memory was when I visited Zurich and my supervisor’s supervisor, Jan Seibert. It felt really good just to see how other groups are doing similar research to what I was doing and how everybody is more or less struggling over the same things. We might be thinking that we are struggling alone but we are not.

LS: What is the topic of your research? Do you want to explain what you did so far?

FT: I generally work with climate change impacts, and I was looking into methods to reduce uncertainties within climate change impact studies, particularly via bias correction (or bias adjustments). In general, I looked into a lot of components of climate change modelling.

LS: And what are you going to be doing next?

FT: I am going to start a postdoc in SLU (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences) and there I will be working on the impact of climate change on agriculture.

LS: Oh, that sounds exciting and very important.

FT: Yeah, especially with the rate of climate change that we are seeing now, it is quite important to see on what crops we should invest more and what crops we should reduce.

LS: Do you want to talk a bit about your background and where you are from? How did you get to where you are now?

FT: I am originally from Iran and I did both my bachelor and master in Iran. My background is in civil engineering, and during my masters I was doing water resources management. For my PhD I was moving a bit more towards climatology. I was working where hydrology and climatology meet. It was actually quite a scary transition, because I was dealing with researchers who are very smart, way smarter than me, and they were doing something very complicated compared to what I was doing during my master. But yeah, I kind of ended up here and it worked out.

LS: So, you would say it is possible to branch out into new topics for your PhD?

FT: Yes, it is very much possible. It is very good to embrace the uncertainty and just go for things that scare you. For example, for me, math is both scary and interesting. But in the end, math was what I was working on for the past four years. I am not an expert in math, but I really like math and I worked with it a lot. For somebody who didn’t have a background in math, it was really rewarding to see that I could do it. It was scary, but in the end, it was doable.

LS: I am sure if I would interview someone who is close to you, they would definitely say you are an expert by now.

FT (laughs): Oh no, I would not say so.  I just really like it. I know that I don’t know a lot in it yet, but I don’t mind. It means, I can really go and do more in it. But just getting used to not knowing math takes a while.

LS: What do you like to do when you are not doing research?

FT: I swim quite regularly, and I am a very avid Formula One fan. I’m also very much interested in cinema.

LS: Is Cinema a big thing in Iran?

FT: Yeah, because this is how we know the other parts of the world, because we cannot really travel easily. Cinema is one of the arts that is highly appreciated. We have a lot of good directors and good cinema.

LS: Now on to YHS. What motivated you to join YHS in the first place?

FT: The first time that I came across YHS I felt that there is no way that I can get in because everybody seemed so experienced and knowledgeable, while I was just a very young naïve, PhD student. But then Sina and Nilay (LS: past YHS members) came to me and said, yeah, you should be a member. I still did not think it could happen, but there were so many cool people and so many cool female researchers, that are or were members of this group. For example, my supervisor Claudia Teutschbein used to be an active member of YHS. And after talking to her and a lot more other people, I learned that through this community they knew that they are not alone within this field. So, I was like, I really like to learn from other researchers that are in the same career stage as I am, and I specifically want to see more women, who are doing science and are doing it their way.

LS: What do you think is the best part about why YHS? And what would you like to change as a president?

FT: I think YHS is really doing great at getting together the people, but I think YHS still has a lot of capacity. At lot of people do not know YHS yet, for example its values and members. Because a lot of people that we now appreciate as scientists were members of YHS once, but we do not know that they were part of YHS community. For example, Wouter Knoben, Wouter Berghuijs, Andrea Popp and Maurizio Mazzoleni.

YHS gathers a lot of people from all over the world. As an early career scientist, you would not have the basis to go to a conference and just say hi to people, maybe because you’re shy. But once you are part of this group, you know a lot more people, know the people that are within your career stage and then you can expand your circle from there.

LS: Any advice to someone who wants to join YHS?

FT: Just join (Laughs). Just join and don’t be shy.  All of us are shy and sometimes we think that, ok, these people are super serious, they know what they’re doing, blah blah…, but everybody is trying their best just to find their way. Nothing can go wrong.

LS: Anything else you have planned for YHS or anything else you would like to say?

FT: I would really like to encourage more women and underrepresented groups to join and speak up. Traditionally you would not see women from my region to stand up. And I like everybody who is willing to do just do that, and who do not exclude themselves because they are from a certain country or from certain colour or certain gender. They should not exclude themselves.

LS: It makes me very happy that you are the new president. You will do great.

FT: Thanks a lot.

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