Mike Ventrice

Sector: Industry

Field: Science

Occupation: Atmospheric Scientist

Meet Dr. Michael Ventrice, Operational and Research Scientist at the Weather Company, an IBM Business! The Weather Company is the world’s largest private weather enterprise, helping people make informed decisions – and take action – in the face of weather. Dr. Ventrice is also an executive member of the American Meteorological Society’s Board of Private Sector Meteorologists (BPSM). He was recently interviewed for BPSM’s profile series Professional Highlight of the Week, and that interview is this month’s Paths Through Science profile.

This interview was originally posted on the AMS BPSM Facebook Page as part of their weekly series Professional Highlight of the Week.  It is republished with permission from the AMS BPSM.

The AMS BPSM was created to serve as a direct resource for current and future private sector meteorologists.  Keep up to date with the AMS Board of Private Sector Meteorologists by liking their Facebook page and following them on Twitter @AMS_BPSM.  You can learn more about them and the work they do for the American Meteorological Society by visiting their Facebook page or on the American Meteorological Society’s website.

Please extend a congratulations to Dr. Michael Ventrice, Operational and Research Scientist at the Weather Company, an IBM Business! The Weather Company is the world’s largest private weather enterprise, helping people make informed decisions – and take action – in the face of weather. Dr. Ventrice works closely in Energy, where he lives in both operations (Days 1-15, Weeks 3-5 prediction) and product development. Since the acquisition by IBM, Dr. Ventrice has been moved into the Weather Company research team.

AMS BPSM: When and where did you go to undergraduate/graduate school? What was your focus while in school?

I am a proud alumni of the State University at Albany, New York. Go Danes! I graduated in 2008 with a B.S. and was fortunate to continue my education at Albany for graduate school under a NASA grant. I received a Ph.D. in Tropical Meteorology under the advisement of Dr. Chris Thorncroft in 2012. My focus was deep in the tropics with focus on the role played by convectively coupled atmospheric Kelvin waves and the Madden Julian Oscillation on tropical cyclone genesis and African weather variability.

AMS BPSM: What classes do you feel were most beneficial to your daily responsibilities at your current job?

While the general atmospheric science, mathematics, and physics courses laid the pipeline, one of the most critical courses I took was tropical meteorology dynamics taught by Dr. Chris Thorncroft (undergraduate sitting on grad-level), then by Dr. Paul Roundy (graduate level). But to be honest, the skill set that has allowed me to propel in my career was something that was not taught in a classroom.

There are two important skill sets that I utilize on a daily basis. The first is computer programming. I took an initiative in graduate school to learn how to compute program… reading weather models in real-time, and manipulating that data into ways people could make better long-range tropical cyclone genesis predictions with. My graduate school web-page continues to be highly utilized when trying to understand the state of the tropics, and where that state might be headed (http://mikeventrice.weebly.com/). Nearly 80% of my job now consists of programming, so learning this skill set was crucial. The second skill set I utilize on a daily basis is communication. Being in the energy field, I have to communicate complex weather information to folks that do not have a strong weather background. There is also a good deal of public speaking entailed in my job, where I am required to speak at conferences, make television appearances, or present our Summer/Winter seasonal forecast on a hedge fund floor. Back in college, I signed up to be a Resident Assistant for the Freshman Quad. There, I was always speaking in front of large groups, or providing incoming Freshman with important information that would allow them to be successful in college. Later in graduate school, I was required to give a number of formal presentations on my research. Combining these experiences together, I am now very comfortable with regards to public speaking engagements.

AMS BPSM: If you could rewind time, how would you change your course path? (For example, would you take a computer programming course over an advanced physics course? Etc.)

Meteorology is full of Math and Science-based courses. Looking back, I really wish I took some business GenEd classes. Working in the private sector, it is important to understand how businesses function… and we are seeing more and more jobs open up in the private sector. I feel that with a slightly more buffed up business background, I would be able to understand the underlying processes that take place in which makes the company wheel spin. Another hot topic that I wish I was more educated on is machine learning techniques/neural net modeling. We are seeing a huge push in the industry to automate. By coupling an atmospheric science degree with data science, you’ll be ahead of the game.

AMS BPSM: What advice can you give to students or early career professionals that may help them smoothly transition into the private sector?

I cannot stress this enough: Be humble in this field and receptive to critical feedback. Meteorologists are some of the most passionate people on the planet. We take that passion into our forecasts and sometimes, a problem can arise. I’ve seen a number of instances at National Conferences, in field campaigns, or social media outlets, where folks became extremely defensive on their theory or forecast. I have a number of stories where I have presented a theory at a conference or composed a forecast that folks have strongly disagreed upon. This should be expected as the science of meteorology is not perfect… it’s the beauty of the field! Try your best to remove personal emotion from your work and be as objective as possible. Emotions can turn into bias and we all know bias hurts the skill of a forecast.

Another important note… you can be the smartest person in your respective field but if you cannot communicate information or work well with others, you will have a very difficult time adjusting into the private sector. It was a challenge for me to stop talking like an academic (no offense to academics here!) and speaking in a way that can effectively resonate with an individual with little background in weather. I always try to gauge the level of education of a client before hitting the gas on full out utilizing our broad meteorological dictionary. I’ve seen folks and companies in this industry suffer from poor communication. Here’s an exercise: go up to a family member who has no background information and try to explain to them the processes of El Nino initiation. Good luck! But seriously… if you can communicate similar processes like El Nino Southern Oscillation dynamics to your family, you will be able to communicate it to a trader with no weather background!

AMS BPSM: How do job prospects look over the next 5 years in your industry?

Job prospects in the private sector have been increasing at a rate greater than that of the government. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s still extremely difficult to land a job out of college. You need to stand out from your peers. One way of doing this is by completing an internship, or developing a skill set that is different from the standard meteorology set. My internship at Citadel LLC, proved to be the catalyst for being selected on the energy team at the Weather Company.

I think with time, we will see a decline in the general forecaster role, but a surge in applied meteorology career roles. These positions could range from sales engineers (focusing on weather data) to data scientists. Heck, your future position could have yet to be created yet! When I was looking for work nearing my completion of graduate school, the position I ended up landing at the Weather Company was an experimental role in which was a blend between forecasting and applied research. It took me 8 months of job search/applications before I landed my position. It can get very tiresome and discouraging when you search the job boards every day with little in the way of open jobs. Just keep your head up, network as much as possible, and focus on your end goal. Best of luck to all in your future endeavors and feel free to reach out to me via Twitter (@MJVentrice) or at future AMS conferences on any of this information!