Kristen Thyng, Texas A&M University, Assistant Research Professor, College Station, TX
I’m currently an assistant research professor at Texas A&M in the Oceanography department, but I’ve had an unconventional career path getting here. I started by studying physics for my B.A. at Whitman College, a small liberal arts school in Washington state. I then attended graduate school at the University of Washington in applied mathematics for a masters degree. There I met my PhD advisor, Dr. Jim Riley, a professor in mechanical engineering who is adjunct in applied math, in a fluid mechanics class. He had funding for a tidal energy modeling project, which I had the background to work on, and I moved to mechanical engineering for my PhD. From graduate school, a postdoc in oceangraphy made the most sense based on my skill set of geophysical fluid dynamics and numerical modeling and, accordingly, I moved to the oceanography department where I am now.
Because of my changing academic departments with each stage of my academic career, I have come into every department from the side, and it has been hard always being an outsider. I often don’t know the jargon and the assumptions that others take for granted, but I also have met a wide range of people doing all sorts of different research, which I hope will enable me to think of ideas that I might not have otherwise. I have found that when I introduce myself to people whose work I’ve studied, they respond willingly and positively, and that has helped me integrate into my research community.
My research is in coastal and estuarine physics. I did oceanographic modeling in my PhD to help understand siting for tidal turbines, a renewable energy source being studied in the Puget Sound and other locations around the world. Currently, I am studying the transport of materials such as oil and phytoplankton in the coastal ocean.
Being in the minority as a woman is something that I am accustomed to – physics, applied math, and engineering all have their own difficulties with attracting and retaining women. Now that I am in an oceanography department, I interact with more women relative to other disciplines I’ve been in. However, while there are approximately equal numbers of women and men at the student and postdoc levels, there are still fewer female professors.