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Alison Peck

Deputy Project Scientist, Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), Chile
Country of birth: USA

Educational background: MS, PhD Physics, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, USA; BS Physics/Math, Univ of Nebraska Kearney, USA


Alison PeckWho or what inspired you to work in science/engineering?
My father first got me interested in astrophysics and cosmology as a hobby, reading to me from magazines, and watching the PBS series "Cosmos" with Carl Sagan. I didn't really consider astrophysics as a career until, as an undergrad, I saw the PBS series "The Astronomers." I was really taken with the scientific topics and the exotic locales.

What are the primary responsibilities of your current job?
ALMA is a large telescope currently under construction in Chile. It consists of 66 radio antennas observing in the range of 100 to 900 GHz. I organize the testing of the telescope throughout construction to make sure it meets the technical requirements. I have a team of astronomers from around the world. We measure several parameters, including the surface accuracy and pointing repeatability of the antennas, the calibration strategies and stability, and the software responsible for control and correlation. It's an exciting job, with opportunities for problem-solving and very few dull days.

Do you have advice for young women considering a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics)?
Make sure you are deciding for yourself what you want to do. As an undergrad, I was told that women who "like" physics should be high school teachers, but I knew that I wanted a PhD and a career in research. So I applied for summer programs at other universities and internships at national labs, anything to get more "real world" experience and make the right choices for myself. Eventually, I found an adviser who suited me perfectly. The right mentors are out there, you just need to be willing to trust your instincts for a while until you find them.