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Janet Sprintall
Katie Valentine

Janet Sprintall

Dr. Janet Sprintall is a physical oceanographer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, at the University of California, San Diego in La Jolla, California. She is the recipient of NOAA research funding.

What drew you to your current career or field?

I liked math, and physical oceanography is a really tangible and practical application of mathematics. Plus, it offered the opportunity to do field work. It’s a comparatively young field so there are still lots of unknowns and open questions that are worth exploring.

What projects or research are you working on now?

I receive NOAA funding to collect temperature profile measurements in the ocean that help us understand the changes that have occurred in ocean heat and currents over the past few decades. My awesome NOAA program manager for this project is Dr. Kathy Tedesco. Another NOAA-funded project aims to look at the role of the upper ocean in the development and propagation of convective rainfall systems in the tropics. This project involves going out to sea on an oceanographic research vessel in the western Pacific with colleagues to collect measurements of both the ocean and atmosphere. My awesome NOAA program manager for this project is Dr. Sandy Lucas.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I get to work on meaningful problems with some of the best students and young researchers. They truly inspire me and make my job more fun. I love working as part of a small group project with students and a few colleagues — this dynamic works best for me to bounce around new ideas and also builds confidence and enhances discovery. Finally, one of the most enjoyable parts of my job is going out to sea to take measurements. It’s a beautiful true wilderness out there, and there is nothing more productive than being isolated and totally focused on just addressing the goals of a single science project. There is a real sense of community among the scientists and crew that you sail with that lasts a lifetime.

What does success mean to you? 

Success is happiness at having a sense of achievement — a job well done. Success is very much a personal and individual perception — I don’t think it is particularly important if others think I am successful (or not). The important thing is that I feel successful if I have given it my best shot.

What was the best advice ever given to you that helped you become successful? 

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. The important thing is to try. Tried and true from my mum: Treat others as you expect to be treated.

What do you hope to accomplish in the future? What do you hope the future for women in science looks like?

The future is looking stronger for women in physical oceanography. We are playing leadership roles in field campaigns and are involved in major projects that have more gender parity than in the past. Physical oceanography science is much stronger for this diversity, but we still have more to do. The important thing is to encourage young women scientists to continue to be involved in science at all levels and throughout their careers.

While it takes all types to make a world, in general I have found that most of my colleagues (both male and female) are extremely supportive. In fact, try and work only with those colleagues who are supportive as this will build your confidence, reinforce your ability and likely your productivity. It’s also more fun. 

Looking back, what would you tell yourself when you were 12 years old? Or what advice would you give to a woman just starting out in her career?

Don’t be scared of making decisions about what are often considered the big challenges in a career — choosing a discipline, choosing where to go to college, choosing that next job, choosing that next project. Be brave and make and accept change. Take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves. Accept the good decisions with the bad decisions. Although decision-making can occasionally be torturous, in the end it’s these challenges that make our lives and careers exciting. 

Is there anything else you would like to share? 

While our work is central to our self-identity, it’s also important to remember that work isn’t everything. Take time out to enjoy being with family and friends. And some me-time is always well-deserved. 

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