Farah Alibay

Farah Alibay - 2019 SPIE Women in Optics Planner

Systems Engineer
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology, USA

Farah Alibay

Country of Birth: Canada
Country of Residence: USA
Educational Background: BA and MEng in Aerospace Engineering, University of Cambridge; PhD in Aerospace Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


As a child, I was fascinated by the history of the Apollo missions. I discovered the world of engineering and the idea that, by working collaboratively in teams, any challenge could be conquered. Around the same time, the first French Canadian female astronaut, Julie Payette, went on her first shuttle flight. It made me realize that the idea of working for NASA wasn’t such a crazy dream and that I should pursue it!

I am a payload systems engineer on the InSight mission, which is a Mars lander. Leading up to the launch in May 2018, my role was to help test the instruments and the lander by putting it through the different environments they will see during their lifetime. I am now part of the team that operates the lander during its scientific mission.

I knew that, as a foreigner, working at JPL was not going to be an easy task. I worked hard and never took no for an answer. I applied to workshops and internships, and talked to everyone I could to get advice on how to improve myself.

One piece of advice that I received was, “Everyone has their own passion. Find yours, follow your interests, and learn as much as you can about them. Whatever you love, dive in and be the best at it that you can be.” I was lucky that I found my passion early in life, and couldn’t be happier to come to work every day; all I wish is for others to feel that way too.

It's intimidating to be the minority in the field. Countless times I’ve stepped into a lab, classroom, or meeting where I was the only woman or person of color. In the end, I learned to embrace my difference and make it an asset. If you work hard and do a good job, managers and teachers will remember you! Use your diversity to stand out and lean on other women who have paved the way before you to guide you through your career.

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