Laurent White, ExxonMobil Research and Engineering, Corporate Strategic Research Labs
I obtained a diploma in Engineering Mathematics from Université catholique de Louvain (Belgium) in 2002 and, after completing a Master of Science at UT Austin in Environmental Engineering in 2003, I decided to come back to Belgium to pursue a PhD in numerical ocean modeling using the finite-element method. My passion for computational methods and numerical modeling drove me to work on this research, rather than the application itself (to be honest). However, as I was struggling to apply traditional numerical methods to the complexity of the ocean dynamics, I increasingly became interested in physical oceanography and in attempting to turn things around and in developing numerical techniques that would honor the physical complexity of the oceans. This appreciation led me to a postdoctoral assignment at NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab (GFDL) in Princeton, NJ, in 2007. At GFDL, I continued working on numerical ocean modeling, and helped develop algorithms for generalized vertical coordinate systems. During these 5 years of research, I always tried to maintain a healthy tension between my passion for computational modeling and my growing interest in oceanography, never really letting one dominate the other, because I understood that viable numerical models would result from a symbiosis of both domains.
I encourage junior researchers not to make decisions that corner them too quickly in their career and to keep an open mind. Physical oceanography is fascinating and still contains many abysses of understanding (pun intended). Research in physical oceanography and in state-of-the-art computational algorithms can be an objective in itself, or can serve as foundation to tackle problems in a different field.