I have been fortunate to grow up in a loving and supportive family, and to continually find mentors who have encouraged me to pursue my love of science. As a life-long member of the Church, I am proud of my pioneer ancestors, and I have a strong desire to live up to their example of faith and sheer determination to overcome any obstacle. I have had to rely on those qualities many times. It’s still amazing to me how many roadblocks to being a scientific scholar face a woman who is LDS and is also a mother. And blonde. But my parents have always been supportive, and as an undergraduate at BYU I had wonderful mentors who encouraged me on my way. In fact, the most supportive men I have ever encountered are exactly those who are the most Christ-like, and this has been of fundamental importance to me in my moments of doubt and questioning.
I’ll never forget the day when, as I rode in a car with a good friend and fellow graduate student at the University of Colorado, he discovered I was LDS. I thought he was going to drive off the road. We’d been friends for at least a year, so he knew me fairly well. He kept saying, “You can’t be one of them!” This is not atypical of the reactions of many of my colleagues when they learn that I am LDS. It’s quite like their reaction when they find out I have three children. It’s a shock for them to absorb, and no doubt many of them think differently of me as a scientist upon learning these things. But really, what fun is there in conforming to everyone’s expectations?
I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because the gospel it proclaims is true. As a scientist, I could not believe in something I did not believe was true. Yes, there are many benefits to being LDS. Yes, it provides a social structure and place of belonging. Yes, it provides significant support in raising a family. However, while all of these things are wonderful aspects of the gospel, I could not believe in the gospel itself without knowledge of its truth.
As a scientist, I choose to look at the world through the lens of the scientific method, as a way of gaining understanding about the world around us. Given that our knowledge of the world and the universe is very incomplete, and that in many cases our data has large uncertainties, the scientific method is still a useful tool for creating some order in our understanding. In my own life I have applied this method to the gospel. I have tested, through the methodology outlined by the gospel, and in every case, sometimes quickly and other times only through much effort and self-discipline, I have obtained the results the gospel has promised.
As a student I learned that one must not be sloppy in performing experiments. I watch colleagues perform meticulous experiments that take months to set up, in which any deviation in the methodology, in the measurements of the constituents, or any unexpected or careless changes in the environment can completely change the outcome of the experiment, or outright negate the entire process. So, I am not unused to the idea that dedication and care are needed, and that knowledge is sometimes difficult to acquire. I am also comfortable with the idea that there may be a very specific way to arrive at the results of an experiment, and that simply wanting to know an answer without being willing to study, experiment, and follow exact procedures will almost certainly not bring one to an accurate conclusion.
It is certainly not easy. There are still so many unanswered questions about the way the earth works (which is good: otherwise I would be without a job). Not all of current science agrees with all of our current understanding of the gospel. My faith is required to help me know that at some time, either in this life or later, I will have enough understanding to be able to reconcile all of the disparate elements. I’ve studied enough about the history of science and religion to know that religion which bends to adjust to science eventually takes a beating, because science is by its nature growing and changing.
With this as a preamble, I am so grateful my religion is true, because it offers so much. First and foremost, it provides a way for me to continue to have the most precious thing on this earth: my family. I can’t imagine wanting an existence without my husband, my children, my parents, and my brothers and sister. What could be greater than the opportunity to remain as a family? Without the gospel it is quite likely that I would have succumbed to professional pressure and decided not to have children. Certainly I would not have had three! And I would have missed the very experiences that have given me the most joy and my most personal stretching. So, while it makes me an outlier in the distribution of physical scientists, I don’t worry about this any more as I am now quite used to being an outlier in so many other ways. And I have the perspective to know that my career is not the only, or even the most, important aspect of my life.
Carol Anne Clayson is currently an associate professor in the Department of Meteorology at Florida State University and the Director of the Geophysical Fluids Dynamics Institute. Her research covers the areas of high-resolution air-sea interaction, satellite remote sensing, and ocean modeling, and she has received funding for her research from NASA, NOAA, the Office of Naval Research, and NSF. She is the recipient of an NSF CAREER award and the Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award. She received a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from President Bill Clinton. Dr. Clayson is the author or co-author of over forty journal articles, two books, two book chapters, and three National Research Council reports, has served on several committees for the American Meteorological Society and the National Research Council, and is currently a member of the AMS Committee on Coastal Environments. She is also serving as the chair of the GEWEX SeaFlux project, an international group of scientists working on improved estimations of air-sea turbulent heat fluxes from satellites. Dr. Clayson received her B. S. degree in physics and astronomy from Brigham Young University, and her M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in aerospace engineering sciences and the Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences from the University of Colorado, Boulder. She and her husband Tristan Johnson are the parents of three boys.
Posted June 2010