Post Doc Research Assistant, Hydrometeorology & Modelling, Chris Skinner @cloudskinner: A Day in the GeoLife Series

Chris Skinner

Chris Skinner

NAME:  Chris Skinner

CURRENT TITLE:  Postdoctoral Research Assistant in Modelling Fluvial Geomorphology at the University of Hull, United Kingdom, since June 2014.

AREA OF EXPERTISE:  I’m kind of in between being a Hydrometeorologist and a Geomorphologist. That’s where I like to be as I think the best science happens between fields rather than solely within them. I specialise in looking at the different sorts of uncertainties in the modelling process and how they interact with one another.

YEARS EXPERIENCE:   I have 8 years of education and a year and a bit as Researcher. In the middle of that I worked as a Sustainable Transport Planner for a couple of years, which taught me a lot of valuable transferable skills!

EDUCATION:  MPhysGeog, University of Hull 2002-2006; Short course on Planetary Science and the Search for Life, Open University, 2009; PhD Hydrometeorology, University of Hull, 2009-2013


What’s your job like?

Busy. Challenging. Varied. For me, it is the best job in the world as I get to use my brain a lot and do something I think is cool. I have the freedom to be creative and not many jobs/careers have that.

My present research is part of a project called SINATRA (Susceptibility of catchments to INTense RAinfall and flooding), part of the NERC FFIR (Flash Flooding from Intense Rainfall) programme. My role is to model catchments using the CAESAR-Lisflood model to understand what happens to sediment during a flash flood and in the years afterwards. The main focus at the moment is testing new enhancements of the model, including allowing for distributed rainfall inputs instead of a lumped one – this difference in input is also likely to result in difference of the outputs.

As well as my present research, I try to keep up with my previous research. I previously used satellite data to estimate rainfall over Africa as part of my PhD. This is a long-established technique used in areas with little ground instrumentation, but at high-resolutions the estimates will be uncertain. I used ensembles to represent this uncertainty and investigated how these influence the discharge outputs from a model of the River Senegal. I’m hoping to incorporate some of this into my work with SINATRA.


In the last year I worked on a project called Dynamic Humber where I used the CAESAR-Lisflood model to simulate tidal flows in the Humber Estuary. I have spent the majority of my life living on the banks of the Estuary, so I found the opportunity to use my research skills to research the local area very rewarding, as well as getting to meet and collaborate with partners around the Estuary, such as the Environment Agency, Association of British Ports and the Humber Management Partnership. I have also had the opportunity to show this work off at events for the public, such as Hull Science Festival, which I love doing.
I’m also getting the opportunity to take my first, tentative steps into teaching. I have lots of experience in assisting classes on GIS, and recently I got the chance to run my own. This year I will be running workshops for Foundation Year students, and I’m really looking forward to gaining that experience and meeting the students.

Video on the Humber Tide Model:

More information on Project SINATRA:

What’s a typical day like?

This very much depends on the day. I usually get up and, over a coffee and a bagel, I check my emails and catch up with Twitter. I live within a fifteen minute walk of campus and enjoy this early morning stretching of my legs. Once in, my first task is often checking on any models I have running. We have a rack of 25 PCs which we use to run models on and some of them can take several days to process – it is wise to check them regularly in case a power cut, or other intervention, has caused them to stall.

Hopefully, some of them will have finished and I can copy over the data. I like to start my day manipulating data, either in a database or using ArcMap, and there is nothing better than copying some data into a spreadsheet and immediately viewing results graphed out.

Currently, I’m finding myself doing a lot of writing which is something I actually really enjoy – I think I’m the only person who actually had fun writing their PhD Thesis! I have four papers on the go at the moment, two of them far more advanced than the others. I always wanted to be a writer – I imagined fiction, but you can’t have everything – so when I get that first paper published I’ll be over the moon.

My office is hidden away in a forgotten corner of our building, and I share it with one other who works part-time. As a result I really value the chance to catch up with colleagues over a coffee as it can get a little lonely… One great way to do this is via our weekly writing group meetings, or lunch in the tea room, where conversation often turns to discussing research. As an early-career scientist, this informal interaction with more experience staff is very useful.

What’s fun?

I find writing and statistics fun, but I’m guessing that’s not what you mean! I think a modern scientist should always look at ways to communicate their science with the public – after all, the tax payer funds many of us so we need to justify that investment. I’m very interested in using new technologies to aid this – for example, I’m working with colleagues from the Computer Science Department to 3D print the DEM I used for the Humber Estuary. This makes a great tactile aid for explaining what a DEM is, and what the Humber looks like underneath the water. Longer term, we’re also working on using Oculus Rift technology to communicate the risk posed by flash flooding.

What’s challenging?

All of it. As an early career scientist almost everything is new and I find myself doing a lot of things for the first time. Submitting my first paper and responding to reviewer comments for the first time was utterly terrifying. Recently, designing materials to teach with has been a challenge and has been a rather steep learning curve, but there are always plenty of experienced staff on hand to offer advice.

What’s your advice to students?

My advice to students would be to look forward and be confident. Surround yourself with positive people, who work hard, are ambitious and encouraging. The qualities of these people will rub off on you and you will learn from them – and you will likely gain some very nice and loyal friends too. Try to interact with those people who are where you want to be, observe what they do to make them successful and try to do those things yourself.

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