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Kathy Perkins

Director, PhET Interactive Simulations; Faculty, Physics Department, University of Colorado, Boulder, USA
Country of birth: USA

Educational background: PhD Earth and Planetary Science, MA Chemistry, BA Physics, Harvard University, USA 

Kathy PerkinsWho or what inspired you to work in science/engineering?
I've always enjoyed how science focuses on "making sense" of the world around us and its role in helping to solve significant problems and improve lives.

What are the primary responsibilities of your current job?
As director of PhET (http://phet.colorado.edu/), I oversee progress on projects goals, identify priorities, plan future directions, write proposals for funding, give presentations about our work, and manage, advise, and mentor team members. I work with PhET's team of researchers to define interesting research questions, design research studies, and analyze data. My favorite part of my job is working on new simulation design, where I draw on my science background and sometimes learn new science ideas. I love brainstorming with coworkers on how to most effectively convey and engage students in understanding key science ideas.

What is the biggest challenge you have overcome in your career?
The biggest challenge for me was figuring out the right niche, given all of the possible jobs within science. Job satisfaction is influenced by many factors, and everyone is motivated by and satisfied by different types of challenges and environments. As an undergraduate and graduate student, I was lucky to have great experiences working in experimental research on environmental problems with extraordinary, supportive scientists. However, something important was missing for my personal satisfaction in this work. I had to allow myself to take the somewhat scary step of moving away from this  job trajectory to explore the new direction of science education and education research. Accepting this risk and uncertainty was difficult, but was one of the best decisions I've ever made. I now enjoy a wonderful job in science that I am passionate about, and that provides great satisfaction all around.