11 February 2022

Climate Intelligence pioneers: Dr. Chloe Prodhomme


By Cervest

Climate Intelligence pioneers: Dr. Chloe Prodhomme

In celebration of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we’ve interviewed some of Cervest’s pioneering women climate scientists about what inspires them, why they chose their specialist field, and how they overcame any challenges they’ve faced in their careers.

In this post, we’re talking to Climate Scientist Dr. Chloe Prodhomme about her fascination with the planet Venus, the difficulties balancing academia and motherhood, and her passion for mathematics.

Hi Chloe. Could you please introduce yourself and explain what you do at Cervest?

I am Chloe Prodhomme and I’m a Climate Scientist at Cervest. My job involves translating scientific data into Climate Intelligence to help organizations adapt with climate change.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in climate science?

I always wanted to be a scientist. When I was younger I wanted to become a planetologist. I was especially fascinated by Venus. Despite its hostile conditions - sulphuric acid rain, average temperatures of more than 400 degrees Celsius - Venus is very similar to earth. In fact, some people say it would be easier to terraform Venus than it would be to terraform Mars. Terraforming being the process of artificially changing a planet’s atmosphere and climate to make it more hospitable to human life.

But during an internship studying Sea Surface Salinity at the Ifremer (Brest, France), I realized that Earth was also a planet full of mystery. I became particularly interested in the ocean. We know very little about how it interacts with the atmosphere, what happens below the surface, and so on. 

In my PhD, I investigated the relationship between ocean and monsoon systems. Specifically, I found that the onset of monsoons was strongly controlled by the Pacific Sea surface temperature.

Which people and role models inspired you to follow this path?

I think that, for many women scientists, Marie Curie is our model. She was a trailblazer in the world of science, both as a woman in a male-dominated field, and in terms of her contributions to physics and chemistry. Incidentally, Marie Curie was also the name of my university. 

My bachelor thesis supervisor, Dr. Sandrine Pires was also an inspiration for me. She was the first woman I met in science, working on the deeply fascinating subject of dark matter. 

After that, I spent seven years collaborating with Professor Francisco Doblas-Reyes. He was a fantastic mentor. I learned so much from him. The trust he put in me, a young post doctoral student, to represent our institute in several European projects, helped me to build up my confidence and establish my international network.

What did you study at university? What did you like most about this subject?

At university I studied mathematics and then mathematics applied to physics. 

Mathematics is great. I love its world of abstraction. Plus, life is so easy in the math world. Everything is either true or false. In real life, things are a lot more complex.

Also, if you have a math background, you can easily move on to many other fields. If you understand math, you understand physics, computer science, statistics, and a range of other topics. I really enjoyed that flexibility, and the option to pursue other areas of study and interest.

What do you think are some of the challenges women face working in climate science? How have you overcome these obstacles in your own career?

It’s getting harder and harder to find permanent positions in academia. You usually have to move to find a new postdoc or fellowship, which means getting yourself out there on the academic circuit. The issue is, applying to fellowships and tenure tracks, going to conferences, and working during weekends and evenings is really challenging when you have a baby. This is one of the reasons I was so happy to find my role at Cervest, and why I am so glad to see more roles opening up for scientists outside academia, especially in climate technology. 

I also think it is harder for women to convince their family to follow her to another country when she is offered a position there. Additionally, applying for funding and fellowships is an important part of the work. This is very competitive and doesn’t fit with my nature. That is why I focused my academic career on collaboration, not competition - a sentiment I carry with me into my work every day.

Overall, I am very proud of my time in academia. But I am also extremely happy to be at Cervest. Working here means I can still pursue my passion for climate science and mathematics, in a very collaborative environment, while also supporting women and diversity.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to women and girls thinking about pursuing a career in climate science?

The best piece of advice I can give is to increase your statistical and programming skills. That is most of our job, after all. 

And also to do your best. Don't give up when things get tough. Trust yourself. You can do it!

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