Faculty Spotlight: Rhys Parfitt

| Thu, 10/13/22
Rhys Parfitt
Rhys Parfitt, assistant professor in the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science at Florida State University and affiliate faculty member at the Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies.

Rhys Parfitt is an assistant professor in the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science at Florida State University and is an affiliate faculty member at the Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies. He also holds an appointment as an adjunct scientist in the Department of Physical Oceanography at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, in Massachusetts. As a researcher, he is primarily concerned with atmosphere-ocean interactions, large-scale climate variability on all timescales, and the socio-economic impact of extreme weather. Parfitt works by analyzing observational datasets and model outputs to theorize what governs such interactions.

Tell us a little about your background and what brought you to FSU.

I grew up in the United Kingdom and chose to study physics for my undergraduate degree at the University of Oxford. Subsequently, I briefly worked in finance before deciding to complete my Ph.D. in physics at Imperial College London in 2014. Afterwards, I wanted to continue working on many of the open scientific questions I had started to answer during my doctoral studies, and I was fortunate enough to receive a postdoctoral scholarship at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution that allowed me to continue my research. Looking for exciting opportunities to lead my own research group, I joined the faculty at FSU in December 2018.

Can you break down your areas of interest for us?

How did your interest in these areas come about? In the most general sense, my research is driven by a desire to better understand the physics of planet Earth. I study the physics of our atmosphere and ocean, as well as the interactions between the two. My passion for science actually began with outer space, however, spurred by a childhood trip to the planetarium. Despite being heartbroken at the time upon learning I could not fly to Jupiter, I pursued a number of classes in planetary atmospheres as a physics undergraduate, before settling on research into the best planet: ours.

What makes you passionate about your topics of research?

Whilst studying the mathematical theories behind the circulations in our atmosphere and ocean is fascinating in its own right, one of the critical motivations behind doing so is to better understand how they influence our everyday life. The lives and livelihoods of a significant fraction of the world's population are often at risk from the weather’s extremes and studying the dynamics underpinning these socio-economic impacts can help us better predict events with potentially catastrophic outcomes in the future. This, as well as the broad applicability of atmospheric and oceanic research, has allowed me to develop research projects for graduate students with wide-ranging interests.

What do you want the public to know about your research? Why are your topics important?

While my interests are broad, I am especially interested in how the ocean influences extreme weather, an area of research called marine meteorology. A fundamental reason why this is important is because variability in the ocean tends to take place over a much longer period than in the atmosphere. This means if you can identify ways by which the ocean impacts the atmosphere, you can potentially unlock better statistical predictability of extreme weather. In fact, in many parts of the world, ocean conditions are an important component of seasonal weather forecasts.

You’re currently an associate editor for the journal Atmospheric Science Letters and a member of the CLIVAR (Climate and Ocean: Variability, Predictability and Change) Climate Dynamics Panel. How do these positions contribute to your research and work at FSU?

In my role as an editor for Atmospheric Science Letters, I help moderate the publication of peer-reviewed scientific manuscripts through discussions with leading researchers who I invite to participate in the review process. I highly value the opportunity to read expert opinions on a broad range of cutting-edge research topics and learn from them. Similarly, being part of the CLIVAR Climate Dynamics Panel helps me to be a part of the international conversation on climate-related research. The main aim of CLIVAR, as one of the six core projects of the World Climate Research Programme, is to coordinate and facilitate international climate research in order to develop, share, and apply climate knowledge from around the world to improve societal well-being.

Who are your role models? Are there certain people who have influenced you most in your life and career?

My parents have always encouraged my interests and stood by me in difficult moments. I suspect growing up and understanding how critical their support has been throughout my life was a big factor in ultimately choosing a career that combined research with education.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Mentoring students is one of the most rewarding aspects of the job. This comes in many forms, from classroom discussions with undergraduates deciding what subjects to pursue to helping doctoral students publish their first journal article. It is also a great feeling to watch my own research group grow — I value the time I spend with all my students in the lab. I also enjoy the collaborative aspects of research, and I am very fortunate that many of my research projects involve diverse groups of people from both inside and outside of FSU.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

This may sound odd, but I find this to be related to the same things I listed regarding my favorite parts. From the mentorship perspective, I am acutely aware that I can greatly influence the futures of my students, and with that comes a great feeling of responsibility. Similarly, with my research, I want to contribute the best science I can to my projects and to the community while not letting any of my research collaborators down.

If your students only learned one thing from you, what would you hope it to be?

The value of keeping an open mind and seeing different perspectives as opportunities to learn.