Optical Engineer, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, USA
Country of Birth: USA
Educational Background: BA Astrophysics, Agnes Scott College; MS Optical Engineering, College of Optical Sciences, University of Arizona; PhD Optical Sciences, College of Optical Sciences, University of Arizona
My father always told me to attend college for an education, not for job training. So I studied astrophysics in college because stars are romantic, not because I wanted to pursue a career in astronomy. In 2004, Agnes Scott College was collaborating with the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) on an undergraduate research lidar, and at one point, a scientist from GTRI pointed out to me that he had the best job in the world: He got to design things, build them, and see how they worked; he was never bored, and always challenged. This made me start thinking seriously about pursuing a graduate degree and career in science and engineering. I started applying for graduate schools and when I was accepted to the College of Optical Sciences at the University of Arizona, I knew that I couldn't pass up the opportunity. I have been with NASA in various capacities since 2007, and completed my PhD in 2013.
I'm part of the optical engineering branch at NASA Goddard, and work primarily with the laser remote sensing laboratory. I've been working on the CO2/O2 Sounder, which is an absorption lidar that is part of the ASCENDS (Active Sensing of CO2 Emissions over Night, Days, and Seasons) mission. This satellite mission will assess the global connection between climate change and the CO2 exchange using active sensing. I'm also a part of the L-VIS (Land, Vegetation and Ice Sensor) team, which is an airborne scanning laser altimeter that was recently awarded the GEDI (Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation) mission to the International Space Station. My primary role in these projects is optical design and instrumentation, and I'm lucky to work with amazing team members on both projects.
I wish that someone had told me that everyone in the room was as unsure of themselves as me, and that it was not a mistake that I was there. It wasn't until several very impressive women admitted similar feelings, that I realized that I wasn't admitted to graduate school because of a fluke, but because I belonged there. Also, recognizing that it's okay, and even expected, that you don't know all of the answers, was important to me. Gaining the courage to ask all of my questions took a little longer. Now, I believe that letting go of your ego is the first step to actually learning something.