National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce
Rebecca Cosgrove

Location: College Park, Md
NCEP Central Operations (NCO)
Job Title: Branch Chief of the Implementation and Data Services Branch


What is your name, and where did you grow up?

My name is Becky (Allen) Cosgrove.  I grew up in the Northeast – born in Harrisburg, PA and then moved to Western Massachusetts in fourth grade.  I grew up around changing weather – lots of snow in the winter, lots of mud in the spring, lots of clouds all winter long.

Where did you go to college?

I got my Bachelor’s Degree in Atmospheric Science at Cornell University (class of 96) in Ithaca, New York.  Then I continued my studies at Penn State University, where I obtained my Master’s Degree in Meteorology in 1998.  I purposely chose to go to Cornell, as opposed to some other schools with meteorology, because it was a big school that offered other opportunities in math and science if I found once I got there that weather wasn’t really for me.

Once in graduate school, I realized that my high school career idea of being a professor wasn’t really the path I wanted to follow.  I was pulled towards the practical application side of the field.  I realized I didn’t want to do research, but rather be on the applied science side of the field.  Therefore, I left school after I got my Masters and entered the work world, rather than pursue a PhD.  I think it was definitely the right path for me.

When did you know that you wanted to pursue a career in STEM?

When I was young, I wanted to know why it snowed.  Where did it come from?  How did it happen?   I was a good student and enjoyed school.  In elementary school, I liked math and science more than English and history.  Math and science had exact answers --  you were either right or wrong, no room for interpretation.  In high school I took Physics and Chemistry and really enjoyed them.  I liked learning how things worked.  In high school I found that the weather was an application of the math and physics I enjoyed and decided that was what I wanted to major in in college.  I wanted to be a professor when I grew up.

How did anyone or anything you saw in the media influence your desire to go into the STEM field?

When I was growing up, the only way to see the weather was on TV.  We didn’t have the access to weather data that everyone has today.  So the media was my entrance into this field.  Now, with so much access to weather information on the Internet, everyone can dive into the weather and go beyond the highs and lows on the TV maps.

Looking back to your childhood, to what extent do you believe your interest in STEM was accepted and praised?

My parents were very supportive of my efforts in school and my desire to go to college to study the weather.  In school, there were some programs and awards to recognize those that excelled in the sciences.   As a senior in high school, when I said I was going to school to study the weather, I did get some strange looks, but people also thought it was intriguing.  I would say that I had to use my own initiative to get into the STEM fields, rather than having it be one of the obvious choices in my high school.

When you were in school, what were some barriers or opportunities to express an interest in the natural and physical sciences?

I think it often takes more effort to find the STEM opportunities.  Sports and other activities are more prevalent in school.  But the opportunities are there if you look for them.  My teachers helped me by providing opportunities to learn beyond what was offered.  In high school, they arranged for me to do an independent study in Chemistry 2 since there was not enough interest for a full class.

Current Work:

How long have you been working at NWS?

I have been at the NWS for 18 years.  I started in the Fall of 1998.  I came to the NWS as my first job right after graduate school, and have stayed ever since.

What is your current position at NWS?

Today I work at NCEP Central Operations, and I am in charge of the NOAA Operational Supercomputers.  We run the NCEP Production Suite – all of the weather and environmental models that provide the NOAA model guidance to the US public, our forecasters, and customers and partners around the world.  I lead an incredible group of women and men that work around the clock to ensure our guidance and products are available to assist the NWS in saving life and property.

Did you start in this position? If not, what was your first position?

My first position was with the Techniques Development Laboratory working on statistical post-processing of the weather models.  We used historical weather observations to translate the complex model output fields into Model Output Statistics (MOS) products that would tell you the more common useable weather information -- temperature, winds and chance of rain at specific locations across the country.

Over time, I found that I enjoyed working on the tasks to get the research/development MOS work into operations on the supercomputers at NCEP.  This lead me to move to the operations side of the house, where I enjoy working with the customers to get them the products they need and make sure the models run on time.  It is a great blend of IT and science, with me providing some of the context of why we run the codes we do and send the data we send.

What would you say is the best thing about working at NWS?

I am always proud to say I work at the NWS because I know that what I do every day makes a difference.  Whether it’s knowing you should grab the umbrella on your way out the door, or knowing to warn people to take cover from deadly weather, we help people every day.

Women in STEM Now and in the Future:

Why do you think there are so few women in STEM careers?

 I think when I was in school, it just wasn’t expected that girls would be interested in STEM subjects.  But I think that is changing.  When I visit Cornell, the atmospheric science classes now have many more women.

Why do you believe there should be more women in STEM fields?

I think we should encourage anyone interested in STEM to pursue these fields.  I don’t know that women necessarily have traits that would make them better at STEM, but I think the point is that anyone with those talents – analytical minds, want to know why things work, want to make things work better – should be encouraged to enter our field and do their best.  But in situations where girls are not encouraged to pursue STEM fields, we should all push to make those opportunities available to them.

Do you believe there is a need for more women at NWS? Why or why not?

I think if there are more women out there that love this work and are good scientists, engineers, managers, innovators, they should absolutely come to the NWS!  I don’t know that a 50/50 mix of men and women is the answer – we just need 100% of the best STEM practitioners.  The key is that women have equal access to the opportunities.   Having said that, I do think having more women employed at the NWS sends the message that STEM and the NWS are gender-neutral and all are welcome.

Do you have any advice for women and girls interested in STEM careers?

STEM activities are not always as easy to find as activities like sports.  Look for activities and groups that include STEM.  Look for opportunities through Girl Scouts and local universities that do STEM events.  Read!  Look for colleges that have a wide range of majors so you can explore subjects you may never have thought were for you.  At work – don’t let set practices hold you back from innovating.  Offer your ideas for new and different ways to do things.  Don’t sit back and wait for things to come to you.

In what ways have you encouraged young women to explore an interest in STEM?

Earlier in my career, I hosted students from Cornell interested in learning more about careers in meteorology.   With my own daughter, I support her participation in Girl Scouts and always push the girls to participate in the STEM-type activities offered to her and her troop-mates.

Additional Questions for Bloggers:

How do you spend your time outside of work?

Most of my time is spent managing my kids – ages 8 and 11.  They have both taken up music, which has given me a chance to scratch off some of my piano talents.  I work with my daughter’s Girl Scout troop, most importantly as Cookie Mom.  I love watching movies and am a bit of a TV junkie.