Dr. Jana Houser’s passion for severe weather began in her second grade science class and she’s been hooked ever since. She became further enthralled after viewing educational science programs on The Weather Channel focused on tornadoes and hurricanes. Houser ultimately decided to pursue a career related to the study of tornadoes finding them captivating, combining both beauty and destruction all in one vessel. Houser acknowledges that tornadoes are often powerful and dangerous but when they develop in a field somewhere far from populated areas, they also display an element of grace.
Houser is currently an associate professor of meteorology at Ohio University where she teaches synoptic meteorology, mesoscale meteorology, radar meteorology, intro to meteorology, a severe storms seminar, and physical geography. She received an undergraduate degree from Penn State University before attending OU where she received a MS in 2008 followed by a PhD in 2013. She credits OU professors Dr. Howard Bluestein, who served as her graduate advisor, and Dr. Robert Palmer as being the most influential in her academic career. Houser, a self-professed “weather junkie” was initially “star stuck” by Dr. Bluestein having grown up watching him in multiple videos where he was conducting research and taking measurements during severe weather events. Houser remains grateful to have been a part of Bluestein’s research group and credits the experience with her success and affording her opportunities for networking and the pursuit of field work.
Houser’s advice for women pursuing STEM degrees is not to be afraid to ask questions. Even though Houser came to OU with confidence borne from excellent undergraduate grades and the receipt of a prestigious AMS Fellowship, she openly admits to struggling to bridge the gap between undergraduate and graduate education as well as being overwhelmed by the volume and breadth of study materials. “Even once I started bringing it all together, I still wished I had not been so afraid to ask questions. I think I was afraid of looking stupid, but now as a faculty member myself, I want my students to ask questions. The students who come to me with questions open up a meaningful dialogue that benefits me as well as them.” Houser believes that women often hold back because they are sensitive to competition and fear judgement by others. She thinks this is a woman’s biggest burden and they shouldn’t allow themselves or their careers to suffer because of fear. Houser stresses that this advice applies to all students because no one is the perfect student or the perfect scientist. Each person should value their contributions and not try to live up to what everyone else around them is doing.
As for the future, Houser sees the field of meteorology needing to diversify and incorporate social sciences in order to reach a broader audience. Climate change and communicating weather and climate impacts is a hugely important direction for the field. Being able to communicate with the public and engage others to catch the ears of political leaders is especially important. Getting the public to understand that weather is more than severe weather, general precipitation, and temperature, and then linking that understanding to what is happening today in terms of climate change will be the greatest task for the future. Houser believes that with improved modeling and technological improvements, there will be a deeper understanding of atmospheric processes leading to improved forecasts.
Houser’s final note to current students and recent graduates is to soak in every opportunity and make sure to keep all options open. She fondly recalls the comradery of her fellow graduate school students and the excitement that all shared being at the epicenter of the severe storms community. Shared experiences, such as struggling with challenging dynamics homework, allows students to bond together and build a support group which is important during stressful times. Houser ends by stating that at the end of the day, each person graduates and her advice is “make sure you don’t pigeon-hole yourself into what you think is the correct career path for a meteorologist to pursue.”