Tanya Brown-Giammanco, Managing Director of Research, IBHS

Tanya Brown-Giammanco, Managing Director of Research, IBHS


Please include details about your educational background and what sparked your interest in atmospheric or related sciences.

B.S. in Atmospheric Science and M.S. in Water Resources Science from University of Kansas
Ph.D. in Wind Science & Engineering from Texas Tech University

I was born in Kansas, and lived between there and Oklahoma until I was 9, so I experienced a lot of severe weather, and can remember seeing and hearing storms, and seeking shelter when they threatened. When I was about 11, my dad's house in Oklahoma was destroyed. That, and my experiences with hurricanes while living in Hawaii and North Carolina in the 1990s, definitely shaped my interest in weather. After beginning college, I quickly realized I wasn't really interested in day-to-day forecasting, and my courses in the engineering school fostered my interest in understanding the weather and how it impacts buildings.

What was your first job in the field and how did you end up in the job you are in now?

My job at IBHS as a researcher was my first job in the field. I've been there for 10 years now, and was introduced to the company when a faculty member recommended I approach them about an internship that was required to complete my degree. I worked at the corporate headquarters for a semester, then as a contractor on specific projects while I finished my degree. In the meantime, the company built a lab, and made a spot there for me, so that I could join when I graduated.

What opportunities did you pursue that you knew would be beneficial to securing a job in the profession?

I was a lab teaching assistant for 4.5 years at Kansas, and also did an internship at the Topeka NWS. I was also a peer adviser for 3 years helping new students with transfer credits and course selection at orientation, which got me used to talking to people I didn't know, which has proven to be very valuable in my current job.

At Texas Tech, I also became heavily involved in field research, both from a storm intercept perspective, but also in damage assessments. These activities fostered a better understanding of the importance of my work, helped me make connections with others in the field, and gave me valuable real-world skills that have helped me in my job. My husband and I have stood up a field research program on hail from the ground up, and I've led a program to conduct damage assessments in hurricanes to provide statistical data on building component performance. And of course, my internship at my company all those years ago obviously had a huge role in securing a spot there full-time upon graduation.

What other courses/skills beyond the required math and science courses do you think would be the most helpful to individuals wanting a career in your profession?

An understanding of engineering and building construction would be hugely beneficial for many meteorologists. NWS staff are charged with rating building performance to assess tornado strength, and an enhanced understanding of the buildings themselves would help them in this work. Broadcast mets are many times the only science people in someone's life, so being able to speak to some of the ways to improve construction, and prevent damage and suffering would go a really long way.

We're also seeing a lot more that having an understanding of the basics of social science can be beneficial in figuring out how to communicate with people of various backgrounds. Data visualization can play a big role here too.

Getting comfortable with creating and delivering presentations is also really important.

What is your typical day on the job like?

My job varies highly on a day-to-day basis. There are plenty of days where I mostly work at my desk, doing analysis, writing reports, participating in meetings, making presentations, doing budget or other management activities. There are days when a lot of my time is spent talking to or doing things for our sponsoring members. There are days when a lot of my time is spent coaching the other researchers on my team, helping them figure out next steps, ways to communicate key findings, dreaming up new project ideas and the workflow to conduct them. There are days when I am in the studio doing webinar recordings, or with a news team to share info about our research. Then there are days when I spend hours in the lab assessing the hail performance of roofing products. Our staff is much bigger now than when I first joined the organization--back then I could be doing anything from building a sensor, building part of a building, installing and calibrating sensors, conducting wind or hail testing, making hail by hand, driving a fork truck to unload a freight truck, running a broadcast quality video system, stripping wires, or installing phone lines, you name it! It was important to have some hands-on skills (thank you field research at Texas Tech), and be willing to learn new skills.

What do you like most about your job? What is the most challenging thing about your job?

I like the variety of tasks, projects, and subjects that I work on. I like the variety of expertise and interests on on our team, which ranges from strictly engineers to meteorologists, and hybrids of the two, but our specialties range in wind, fire, and hail.

One challenging aspect is that we are still a really small organization, so to chase something all the way to the end, it would take a really long time. So often times, we scratch the surface, then have to set something aside to focus on the next thing, and don't really get to go to the depth that we would if we were in academia.

Does your job allow for a good work/life balance? If not, why?

Generally speaking, we have a good work/life balance. There are times, especially around significant weather events, where we work more and harder. While we're all dedicated and willing to do it, it can get taxing, we still have to keep up with our "regular job", and we don't really ever get that missed time with our families back. A lot of people in the weather enterprise probably go through this.

Some other members of our organization seem less focused on work/life balance (i.e. you'll get emails from them all weekend long, even though they're not vital or urgent). I've learned to stop looking so much--if something is really important they can call me!

Over the course of your career what is the most exciting thing that has happened to you?

I like to do things that have never been done before, and my job has had many of those. We were the first to measure and quantify the strength or hardness of hailstones, the first to 3D scan and print hailstones and have now done this for two state record stones, the first to test and destroy a full-scale two story home with hurricane-force winds, the first to conduct a full-scale fire ember storm, and most recently, we developed a brand new test method to rate the hail performance of roof shingles. Not only that, 3 manufacturers have introduced new shingles as a result, and 1 discontinued one that performed poorly.

Beyond that, I've met former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley and let her fire our hail cannon!

Is there anything you wish you had done differently in your career?

I still have an interest in academia, particularly in university administration, grown through my work as a teaching assistant and in orientation and advising. I hope that going straight to the private sector after completing my degrees, where I can't publish peer-reviewed articles as much, hasn't shut the door on that being a possibility in my future. On the plus side, I've gotten a lot more experience managing people and resources (financial, facility, and personnel hours) in my current role, that would be beneficial in university administration, than I would have gotten going straight to academia.

What are some “must haves’’ on a resume if a person wants to gain employment in your field?

Office computer skills and programming are required, internships or other real-world experience like applicable volunteer work (think Habitat for Humanity!) is definitely a plus. A tailored resume is also important--people that apply for one of our research positions that have a resume stating they are seeking a job in forecasting or something else that isn't really what we do, really don't have a chance to get an interview, even if they may have a great skillset. This just tells us that even if you come on board, you'll constantly be looking for another option, and we may only get 1-2 years of work from you, which is hardly worth it considering how much time we put into training and mentoring.

For many of our positions, an advanced degree (masters or Ph.D. depending on the position) would be required. But we also have team members in entry-level positions with bachelors degrees.