BAMOS - Vol 35 No.1 Autumn 2022 Autumn 2022 - Page 11


A mentor and friend ( transcript of speech from event )

Joelle Gergis , The Australian National University
BAMOS Autumn 2022
I first met David Karoly at an icebreaker event at the first international CLIVAR Science Conference in Baltimore in 2004 . I ’ d met Karl Braganza earlier in the week , who pulled me along to introduce me to his former PhD supervisor ; a man who spoke faster than I ’ d anyone I ’ d ever met before , his mouth unable to keep pace with the torrent of ideas racing through his mind .
Despite his terrifying intellect , his easy smile and warmth put me at ease as he inquired about my PhD research ; a 500 year reconstruction of past ENSO events . By the end of the conversation he handed me his card — he was actually based at the University of Oklahoma at the time — but he encouraged me to keep in touch as he thought my research sounded interesting . As a graduate student , I was delighted to have met one of the greats in our field , but was a little unsure what to make of the whirlwind that was David Karoly .
It wasn ’ t until 2007 that our paths crossed again ; this time through Peter Cosier from the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists . I had recently completed my PhD research and had been selected to participate in their Science Leaders Scholarship program which aimed to help bridge the communication gap between science and policy . I had moved to Melbourne the year before and was having trouble finding postdoc work to reconstruct past climate variability using multiple , high resolution palaeoclimate records .
Aside from Michael Mann ’ s infamous hockey stick global temperature reconstructions of the past 1,000 years , multiproxy work was still very much in its infancy not only in Australia but all over the world . So while a lot of people were really interested in my work , no one felt like they could help me with the complex , multivariate challenges of developing reliable climate reconstructions .
At the time the nation was in the grip of the Millennium Drought , so I was interested in trying to understand the long term context for the extreme conditions we were experiencing . Surely , there were long-term drought records available for Australia , the driest inhabited continent on Earth , surely ? But the more I looked , the more I realised that records were very localised and fragmented , and no one had ever attempted to draw together our region ’ s long-term climate records to try and reconstruct our drought history . It seemed like a major research gap ; something that would be great use of my skills and interests — but as an early career researcher it seemed impossible to crack the code of securing ARC funding .
When I mentioned my predicament to Peter Cosier , he asked if I had ever met someone called David Karoly ? He had recently returned to Australia to take up an ARC Federation Fellowship and was building a new research group at the University Melbourne . He was sure someone like David would have an interest in trying to develop a drought reconstruction for Australia . He encouraged me to get in touch saying he was a
L – R : Sally Heath ( publishing editor ), Karen Day ( Former Dean of Science , University of Melbourne ), Joelle Gergis and David Karoly at the launch of Sunburnt Country , 2018 . Photograph supplied by Joelle Gergis .
really great guy ; whip smart and very supportive of young researchers .
So eventually I plucked up the courage to write the unsolicited email expecting to hear the same response I ’ d received from several other research professors I ’ d approached at a number of universities . Instead , a very encouraging message came through saying , yes , he was very interested in my research ideas . Karl had already mentioned my work on ENSO to him and he was happy to meet and discuss possibilities . At the time , David was busy wrapping up his work on the IPCC ’ s Fourth Assessment Report and establishing himself back in Melbourne , but he made time to meet me — at 2pm on 23 April 2008 , to be exact .
Although he seemed interested in my work , I warned myself against getting my hopes up as I ’ d been disappointed every single time I ’ d met other senior colleagues . At that point I had become so demoralised about the possibility of continuing my research career that I remember phoning my partner to tell him that I was meeting an atmospheric science professor at Melbourne Uni , but the meeting would probably only go for around 15 minutes so I would be home early that day .
When I knocked on his office door , the sprightly professor sprung from his seat and reached out to shake my hand . I remembered the warmth of his contagious smile as we immediately launched into an exciting discussion about trying to write an ARC proposal to reconstruct Australian drought . He said the problem was not my ideas but the fact that I didn ’ t have a team — but perhaps he could help with that . Within about ten minutes , he offered me a year of funding to get my proposal