For Christmas, my brothers made me a book trailer for Restless Spirits that comes out in June. Playing the lead is my sister-in-law, Katie. I asked Katie to weight in on how women reflect their jobs as she’s of the generation who grew up expecting to work and in non-traditional fields. Also, she’s a good sport about the Oreo jokes!
What is your job? Briefly describe for us non-scientists OREO –
I’m a research scientist. My current research focuses on the stability of organic molecules in space. The environment in space is not kind to a lot of organic material, but we observe signs of it everywhere. I’ve been working on 3 different experiments using spectroscopy (the use of light emission/absorption to study matter) to look for changes in the organic molecules after exposure to space.
- The first experiment, Organics on the EXPOSE-R platform on the International Space Station, only looks at the changes before and after being in space.
- The SEVO (Space Environment Viability of Organics) experiment on the O/OREOS (Organism/Organic Exposure to Orbital Stresses) small-satellite exposes more organic molecules to space, but this time, a spectrometer collects spectra during the experiment and not just before and after.
- The last experiment is OREOcube (ORganics Exposure in Orbit) which is right now in the sample preparation stages and will be mounted on the International Space Station while a spectrometer collects spectra.
How did you end up in this line of work? What draws you to it?
When I was in middle school, my dad realized I had an interest in space and got me a telescope. From that point on, I thought I wanted to be an astronomer. When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to intern at NASA Ames Research center working for a scientist whose research focused on Mars. I then went on to get my Bachelor’s in Astronomy and Physics and realized I preferred working a lab to being an astronomer and staring at a computer screen all day.
I got my PhD in Space and Planetary Science where my research focused on the stability of water and carbon dioxide ice on Mars. What draws me to this is that the field is always changing and there are always new aspects of it to try to understand. Much of the research leads back to how life evolved here on earth.
Is there any aspect of your job that spills over into your personal life?
There is a hard line to separate my work from my life. In my field, you have to be very confident in your research even when the results are preliminary. This attitude can stick with you no matter in other aspects of your life. My husband is good at reminding me that I may not always be right, but that can be a very hard thing for a scientist to realize.
Here’s Katie introducing Book 2 of the Fayetteville Fairies, Restless Spirits –
How would you rank your job in terms of everything in your life? What’s most important to you?
I have decided to put family ahead of my work, and I am currently only working a day or two a week. There are many scientists in my field who have chosen the opposite and decide to wait to have kids and then still end up with their kids in day care full time. My husband and I agreed we didn’t want that, but at the same time I didn’t want to completely cut myself off from science. So I have been very lucky and able to only work a day a week with my research group.
But when I am at work, I have to try hard to put all my attention on work, while at home I try to push that to the side and focus on my girls. There are times where they bleed into each other, but I try hard to keep them separate, so they can both get the focus they deserve.
I know you work with other young women. What advice do you have for them regarding pursuing careers? What advice do you have regarding work/life balance?
My field is very male heavy, but there are starting to be more and more women coming through. I have been involved with a group called Women in Planetary Science which has tried to look at some of the underlying problems that women in my field run into. I first got involved with this group while in grad school and loved that these women could relate to things I was seeing and experiencing. Now I try to pass that info onto younger women I work with.
This past summer, I had multiple interns working under me on the OREOcube sample preparations. I tried to give these women a real idea of what the field was like, but at the same time, I also worked hard to write letters of recommendation for them as they were applying for grad schools.
I also advise for the nearby chapter of my sorority. I loved being in my sorority in college as it gave me an outlet to have female friends (again, not a lot of women in my field). I try to share this with new generations of college women. Last fall, I spoke to them about what I do for my career and how I got there. Day to day, I try to help them work on their time management skills and leadership skills. Some of these women are scientists and engineers, but nowhere near the majority. I just try to help provide all of the sisters a strong outlet and support group that can be there for them in college and beyond.