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“I initially wanted to be a weather forecaster on TV – until I realised you could study climate change.”

Dr Melissa Lazenby who has graduated with a PhD in African Climate Change

“I feel quite connected to climate change, it’s a very personal thing because it’s happening where I’m from. My family have experienced the droughts and farmers committing suicide. It’s really important we are able to predict events so we can ensure there is provision for the future.”

Melissa, 29, has just finished a PhD in the School of Global Studies. Originally from Johannesburg, she was set to become a weather forecaster before she started the Peter Carpenter African Climate Scholarship at the University, which trains future African climate scientists.

She says: “I was set to start as a weather forecaster at the South African Weather Service and I was approached by the Peter Carpenter Scholarship. I couldn’t believe someone thought I was good enough to undertake a PhD in African climate science, and before I knew it I was on a plane to England.”

On her move to the UK, Melissa found it very different from her native South Africa, but she credits moving to Brighton with helping to open her eyes to the world.

“It was a bit of a culture shock initially, but it’s refreshing to open my eyes to the rest of the world. I’ve become a lot more open-minded since moving here, it’s a great place to be. Although I don’t have a lot of BBQs anymore, I love the beach but I’m not too keen on the pebbles - it could do with a bit more sand!” Melissa said.

For the past four years Melissa has been working on her thesis which looks at how certain future climate change predictions for Africa are. Her research, which has been published in two journals, makes a stark warning that October, November and December are set to become incredibly dry on the continent.

Melissa adds: “This drought is likely to have a huge impact on where rain occurs and will really affect agriculture and water security. Africa has been dealing with the effects of climate change since the 1970s, globally we must find a way to mitigate this and the more information scientists produce about it the better.”

During her studies, Melissa presented in the House of Lords, where she made a speech about her findings and the scholarship scheme for African students. She has now gained a teaching fellowship at Sussex where, for the next two years, she will be educating students on global climate change.

She says: “I’ve always found nature and the climate quite unreal, so to be able to teach students about this continues to really excite me. Teaching is something I’ve been doing throughout my PhD and I’ve found a real passion for it. It also keeps you on your toes because you learn a lot from the students as well.”

But what about weather forecasting? Well Melissa still says she has aspirations to do this, but she wouldn’t be your typical weather woman.

She says: “I don’t just want to present the traditional weather on TV, I’d like to do a really original forecast, to have a climate insert afterwards. I think this would really help to educate people about climate change and what is going to happen over the next 30 years. It’s a dream I’d definitely like to pursue.”

By: Lynsey Ford
Last updated: Thursday, 20 July 2017