Clare Nasir: from mathematics to meteorology

Clare Nasir is one of meteorology’s most recognisable faces, having fronted GMTV and ITN broadcasts for many years. A Plymouth graduate in mathematics, and at masters-level in applied marine sciences, she has recently returned to the Met Office, where she began her career in the early 90s. She is a filmmaker and author, and still presents the weather daily on Channel 5. In November, she returned to the University to speak at the Postgraduate Open Evening – and sat down with CONNECT for a trip down memory lane.

Q: When did you first become interested in the sciences?

Probably when I was at primary school. I loved maths and geography, and I’ve always wanted to study them – and still do. You are as good as your teachers, especially in those early years, and so when I came to Plymouth to study maths I pretty much ‘struck gold’.

Q: What attracted you to the University at that time? 

I wanted to study fluid dynamics, and so I needed a really strong department in that field. I was able to combine my love of the natural processes with mathematics as a language. I specialised in applied maths and my degree was the mathematics of the upper atmosphere, and I then went on to do a masters in oceanography – and the mathematics of – and that was a perfect set up to study maths but with a discipline attached.

Q: Why did you choose to do a masters at that time?

The masters was actually a step towards a PhD, so it was a no-brainer at the time. I had a high maths grade and there was NERC funding for a masters so I applied and got the only place. I had a lot of support from my professor at the time, Phil Dyke, and I was going to carry on to the PhD, but it was money that stopped me going further. So I set my goals on joining another scientific institution – and that was the Met Office. The odds were something like 1 in 800, but because of my maths degree here, my masters, and my thesis in both, it pretty much pushed me to the top of the list.

Q: What are some of your most treasured memories of being here?

I really loved the lectures and the diversity – I could have chosen to have gone down other routes such as computing. I loved the teachers and tutors and found them to be really accessible, and that helped to cement the knowledge you got from the lectures. I loved the campus even in the late 80s/early 90s, because everything was within walking distance. And I love Plymouth as a city; the backdrop is absolutely beautiful. So from my point of view it was a wonderful place to be and I never wanted to leave. You sensed there was magic going on, and to this day some of my best memories are from here.

Q: When you went into the Met Office, did you have any idea that you were going to be in front of the camera?

Yes. I had to do a screen test as well as the scientific interview, and I’ve always enjoyed talking about the weather. Even when I was an undergraduate, I was teaching maths to psychologists, so I’ve always felt I can communicate difficult subjects in a way that people understand. With broadcasting, you have to be able to bring the subject down from the technical level, so perhaps I was always better suited to that than being a PhD student!

Q: What does an average day look like for you? 

The day starts for all of us with a briefing from the Chief Scientist about the weather, and we then go off and make films. So, for example, there has been a lot of warming along the eastern side of Scotland recently, something known as the Foehn effect, so we filmed a piece to explain that. We do the broadcast for Channel 5 from the studio, and that then gets sent to London. I media train forecasters, so that they can bring out their ‘stories’ editorially rather than getting tied up in the jargon. And we do a lot of social media alongside it. 

Q: You must have seen the discipline, and the organisation, change a great deal since you started there?! 

It has rationalised over the last 25 years. There were lots of different centres around the country, but now it’s all centralised with some amazing facilities. And there are many opportunities for undergraduates and postgraduates because the Met Office recognises the need for ‘fresh blood’. And that’s great for me, being here in Plymouth for the postgraduate event, to be able to say that there are good jobs out there – in science, technology, engineering, as well as design and graphics. 

Q: Is that your key message to the postgraduate audience tonight? 

There are two core messages, really. The first one is that you have to aim big and be bold. And secondly, you work your arse off. There is no getting away from that. You can’t be complacent in this environment because there is too much competition and too many clever people out there. 

Q: You must be passionate about people going into science – and women in science as well?! 

Yes, I do a lot of talks to schools, and write books for kids on weather. I go in and try to ignite their interest in and passion for the weather. I think at that age, they simply don’t see any gender barriers. When I was at university, we had a ratio of something like one girl to every nine boys – and our degree was genuinely hard. Lots of students dropped out. I come from a mixed heritage and a poor background, so for me, it really was about staying focused and working hard. 

Q: Do you follow research trends or particular scientists? 

I tap into good science all of the time because there are always stories there. I steer clear of making scientific comment on climate research, and when I do films, I bring in experts because there are so many great scientists out there. I’m in an amazing position because I have some of the greatest minds working alongside me and giving me advice as to what is going on. 

Q: And finally, how does it feel to be back at your alma mater today? 

It’s brilliant. I’m going clubbing later – Union Street beckons!

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