David Titley

Sector: Government

Field: Science

Occupation: Atmospheric Scientist

My name is David Titley.  I work at Penn State, Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science, and I’m a professor of practice and also the founding Director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk.


What inspired you to pursue a career in the Earth and space sciences?

If my wife were here, she would have told you I hatched as a weather person. My first weather station, I think I had when I was in first grade. I have records from third grade on–my prized possession when I was 10 years old? I finally badgered my parents enough that I got a rain gauge.  So, I’ve just been one of these people that have always liked weather.

I ended up in the Navy because, very frankly, I needed a way to to pay for college, and there was scholarship Reserve Officer Training Corps.  Turns out I liked the Navy, and they thought I was at least minimally competent so that turned into a 32-year career, but it certainly wasn’t my my intention. So, I have literally known for as long as I can remember that I was going to do something with weather.

Who were some of the mentors who helped to shape your career and what did you learn from them?

The Navy, of course, helped in many, many different ways. I got to work for a whole variety of people all the way, from four-star Admirals and Generals, from whom I just learned massive amounts about leadership and running large organizations, to the Pentagon’s foremost long-term strategists.  A gentleman named Mr. Andy Marshall who’s now 94 years old, he had been appointed as the chief strategist in the Pentagon by every president from President Nixon to President Obama. So, being able to learn from somebody like that about how to think about the future in different scenarios and then really having this ability to put all this together.

After I got out of the Navy, I’ve had the opportunity, the National Academy of Sciences has asked me to be on a number of committees. I served on one with Dr. Marcia McNutt, now president of the NAS, and she taught me a lot about how to run a committee at the NAS.  I then had the opportunity to co-chair and chair some committees myself.

And really, every time you get to do that, you have this opportunity to learn from some tremendously smart and dedicated scientists who are who are members of these committees here. So I’ve been I’ve been very very blessed with just a tremendous number of people.

What advice would you give to students and early career scientists?

I think many colleges now have opportunities to do, that we simply just didn’t do decades ago, is much more active student chapters in professional organizations, whether that’s things like the American Geophysical Union, like the American Meteorological Society, and other relevant professional organizations.

So as a student, engage yourself in those student clubs. If you have the opportunity to go to AGU or any other professional convention, I highly, highly recommend it.

So, the people coming up, it’s going to be their profession and they’re going to get to shape it. You get to network, you get to see how a scientific meeting runs, you get to the private sector, you get to meet other academics from other institutions as well as the people who are going to be your peers, students from other universities, and you get to see what they’ve learned and how they act and you learn how to act. It’s a tremendous opportunity.

Is there any other advice you would like to share?

I would tell people to be persistent. If you have a goal, sometimes you know you’ve only got to hit that home run once or even a base hit. You’ve only got to hit it once and the great thing about persistence is you get a whole lot more than three outs.