Allison M. Thomson is a researcher and group leader at the Joint Global Change Research Institute, a partnership of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and the University of Maryland, College Park.
Allison M. Thomson is a researcher and group leader at the Joint Global Change Research Institute, a partnership of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and the University of Maryland, College Park. Her primary research interests are in the field of climate change and land use, using computer modeling to understand the interactions between global climate change and agricultural, soil and water resources. In addition, her research explores alternative future scenarios of land management and the implications for the carbon cycle and food security in Integrated Assessment models. She is also the team leader and manager for the Terrestrial Processes and Adaptation Group at JGCRI where she manages scientific staff conducting research on agriculture, forestry, terrestrial carbon cycling, bioenergy resource management and societal resilience and adaptation to climate change and other environmental stressors.
1) What inspired you to work in STEM?
My interest in science goes back to high school, when I had the opportunity to conduct field research on forestry as a summer intern. Then in college, I became really interested in environmental sciences, and started in the geology program. It was fascinating to see how dynamic the Earth system is, and how the change due to people and society is really interacting with a very dynamic system. My geology professor constantly challenged everyone to solve complicated questions and puzzles in a participatory and team-oriented manner – she was great at motivating people to really get engaged in the process of science rather than just receiving information.
2) What excites you about your work at the Energy Department?
The environment is really set up to work collaboratively toward solving bigger problems, not just work as individual investigators. We’re doing fundamental research but also solving problems that are very applied, not just for the sake of scientific discovery, but also looking toward what we can contribute back to society. The Lab environment has a history of being about innovation and discovery and looking longer-term to build teams and address national challenges.
3) How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?
The things that were engaging to me are that I feel it’s about learning and understanding not just static information. It also makes science much more engaging when you find people who are interested in working together and encouraged to view research as a collaborative enterprise. We need to demonstrate that science is not just theoretical discovery, we are working on real-world problems and informing solutions, to get people engaged in what science can do.
4) Do you have tips you’d recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?
My work relies heavily on modeling for understanding future climate change and its impacts so it is necessary to have solid skills in statistics and mathematics, as well as computer programming, to keep up with all the advancements in big data. Those are the practical aspects. More importantly, find a mentor who you trust and find inspiring, and explore as many areas of science as you find interesting. Don’t just think about “traditional” paths with a narrow focus – think creatively.
5) When you have free time, what are your hobbies?
Gardening, cycling, yoga, and kayaking – I like to go whitewater kayaking on the Potomac River.