Nick McKay, an associate professor at Northern Arizona University, has a unique blend of responsibilities as a teacher, researcher, and advisor. His passion for environmental science and climate change led him to pursue a career in academia, where he could combine his love of teaching with his love of research. 

As a professor within the School of Earth and Sustainability at NAU, Nick’s teaching responsibilities include an entry-level climate change course, and also a graduate-level class on Environmental Data Analysis. As a teacher, Nick takes great pride in being able to communicate complex scientific concepts to his students in a way that they can understand.

Nick’s research focuses on paleoclimatology, which is the study of past climates. He is interested in understanding how climate has changed in the past and why. He has been doing research in this area for almost 20 years and has published numerous papers on the subject. 

"A lot of my work involves making sure the science is reproducible," McKay states.

Nick’s “research involves large-scale data synthesis and analysis”, which can be a daunting task. He works with paleoclimate data sets from various sources, including tree tings, lake sediments, caves, and ice cores. Nick’s goal is to bring all of these data sets together and compare them to build a big picture of what the climate was doing around the planet over long timescales. This can be a challenging task, but Nick is up for the challenge. 

One of the biggest challenges that Nick faces in his work as a professor is figuring out how to communicate complex scientific concepts to his students. He wants to make sure that his students understand the importance of climate change and the impact it has on the planet. Nick takes the time to explain the science behind climate change in a way that his students can relate to.

When asked about what inspired him to pursue a career in environmental science, Nick shared that he didn’t start out planning to be a professor. He took a variety of classes as an undergraduate student until he found something he really liked. He started out imagining that he was going to be an environmental engineer, but found that the work was not what he had in mind. He then switched to environmental science and greatly enjoyed it. This is what led him to pursue a career in paleoclimatology, where he later received his master’s and Ph.D. 

“I'm excited to see the field keep growing”, McKay explained.

Aside from his work in environmental science, Nick also has a passion for the outdoors. He enjoys hiking, boating, and exploring with his family. Nick believes that many people in his field were drawn to it because of their love for nature, and he shares that sentiment. He finds a connection between his hobbies and his work in environmental science, as he gets to experience the environment firsthand and develop a deeper understanding of its complexities. Nick’s passion for the outdoors fuels his dedication to his work, as he strives to protect and preserve the natural world that he loves. 

His passion for environmental science and climate change is evident in all of his work, and he is committed to making a difference in the world. As Nick continues to make progress in his field, we can expect to see more exciting discoveries and insights into the past and future of our planet’s climate. 

Interview and article by Ashley Alonso