Civil and Environmental Engineering
Charles A. Stock ’97
Research Oceanographer, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory
I was torn between what I thought were much different interests when I arrived at Princeton as a freshman. Part of me really enjoyed creative writing, music, and delving into literature in search of a good meaningful story. Another part of me was drawn to science and mathematics. I couldn’t pinpoint why at the time, but I was pretty good in these subjects in high school and had some very good and enthusiastic teachers. I decided to start on the science and math route and began as an engineer. I wish I could point to a big epiphany that led to this decision, but it was mostly pragmatic: Course requirements made it easier to switch from engineering to literature than the other way around.
My first year as an engineer was a struggle. I may have repressed some of the details, but suffice it to say, the coursework was far more demanding than high school. However, the reasons why I was drawn to science and math also were starting to crystallize. I gained a deeper understanding of how mathematics can be used to describe the world around us, and I enjoyed figuring out the rules underlying emergent patterns. This growing interest carried me through the bumpy academic ride early on. Eventually, I started taking courses in civil and environmental engineering that wrestled with the behavior of complex natural systems. The problems were broad in scope, relevant to large societal needs, multidisciplinary, and demanded creative solutions. I was hooked.
The art of science
After graduation, I got a master’s degree and had every intention of going into environmental consulting. I had some offers from big firms that would have put me to work on problems in flood management or groundwater contaminant remediation—and made me a few bucks! I also sent a curriculum vitae to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, where scientists studied a range of fascinating ocean phenomena with innovative methods. The creative atmosphere, the passion of the scientists for their work, and the boats and sandy beaches made a compelling combination, and I accepted an offer to go to Woods Hole to develop models for blooms of toxic algae that severely impact shellfisheries in the Gulf of Maine. This evolved into my Ph.D. thesis, and I officially became an oceanographer.
I am presently a research oceanographer employed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, which is a climate dynamics and modeling laboratory at Princeton. My research is focused on understanding interactions between climate and ecosystems and predicting the impact of climate change on living marine resources. The work demands a combination of mathematical and scientific rigor, as well as creativity and writing, that has, somewhat surprisingly, ended up satisfying both sides of the freshman who arrived at Princeton unsure of which direction to head.