Julie – Electro-optics engineer

Julie is currently an electro-optics engineer for the Space Mission Analysis Branch at NASA and leads a technology and integration team that identifies and communicates technologies that could enable human spaceflight exploration to a variety of space destinations.

Check out her profile below to see why she loves her job and how you can follow in her footsteps.

What attracted you to this job?

Of course NASA is a very prestigious place to work. When one thinks of NASA you think about space, airplanes and the environment. I was fortunate to obtain my advanced degree through NASA funding and was able to do research that applied to NASA goals and objectives. This research involved developing a solar pumped dye laser system.

After graduate school, one of the NASA Langley Research Center supervisors asked me if I wanted to continue to perform research that addressed NASA goals and objectives by developing solid state lasers for remote sensing of the atmosphere and I said yes. I have been fortunate enough to utilize my degrees in physics to move to a different organisation that identifies and assesses current and new technologies to enable human spaceflight exploration to a variety of space destinations.

So, one of the things that attracted me to NASA was the NASA brand and the other was the opportunity to do innovative research that addressed National goals and needs.

What does your typical day involve?

A typical day involves using advanced concept tools to identify, assess and communicate new technologies needed for human spaceflight exploration to NASA decision-makers. A typical day also involves answering email, attending meetings and addressing any action items from customers.

What gives you the most job satisfaction?

There are two distinct activities that give me the most job satisfaction. One is providing information, through thorough analysis, about space exploration enabling technologies to NASA decision makers to make informed decisions on investing in technologies. The second is being able to talk with young people about careers in the STEM field.

What do your friends and family think about your job?

They think my job is really cool and they often ask me a lot of questions about what I do.

Tell us more about your environment in terms of work-life balance

I approach my work-life balance very deliberately. There are a million things I can do between work and life and I would like to do them all, but have to prioritize very carefully. I am determined that family comes first in all things, but work is very important as well. I realize that the work-life balance can become out of balance very quickly, so I make sure I continue to do what makes me happiest first, have fun and don’t regret any decisions.

How did you get to where you are today? (i.e. qualifications and career route)

I have had many opportunities over the years. I was fortunate to attend a very good university where professors were personally vested in the success of their students. I have had many opportunities while working at NASA and have worked on great projects with great and dedicated people. I started my career with college, studying physics which in turn opened many doors. My graduate work involved research that was applicable to NASA goals and objectives. Since my research applied to NASA goals, I had exposure to NASA personnel who could hire me after graduation. Since starting my career at NASA I’ve performed research that enabled remote sensing of the atmosphere and now I head a small team that does technology assessment and integration for NASA Human Operations and Exploration Directorate.

My qualifications include two degrees in Physics, the opportunity to take NASA sponsored classes that provided more qualifications, the opportunity to publish and present my research at international conferences and take on leadership responsibilities. I did not have a planned career route, but made myself available to training that provided me the qualifications to step into opportunities once they came about. Also, my supervisors were supportive and recommended me for a variety of opportunities

What advice would you give to someone thinking of following your path?

First of all, I would suggest that anyone thinking about a career in the STEM field work very hard while in school, whether that is middle school, high school, college or working toward an advance degree. Secondly, I would suggest that anyone interested in a career in the STEM field find that place where things naturally flow. For instance, you may be good in maths because you can easily conceptualize and learn maths concepts, or you are good in physics because you can visualize and comprehend physics principles somewhat easily.

I would also suggest taking advantage of opportunities outside the learning environment such as applying for summer internships or work experience. Also, work hard to communicate well and write well.

How well is your job compensated? What is the starting salary for someone in your field, and how much can this be expected to rise?

Compensation for my job allows me and my family to live very comfortably. I’m not sure what the starting salary is for someone in my field. Whatever the compensation currently is, it should rise over time as the need for critical thinkers in the STEM field is needed in society.

What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax?

I love to support my husband and children in all of their activities. I also love to read mystery novels. I exercise regularly as well.

Have there been any embarrassing moments?

Yes, there have been embarrassing moments. I remember the first day I started working at NASA Langley Research Center. I had an interview prior to my first day and after the interview, my new supervisor showed me around the building introducing me to the people I would work with and offices throughout the building.

On the very first day, I walked into the building and soon realized that I was very lost. I could not figure out how to get to my office and I stood in the hallway trying to decide whether to turn right or left. It was totally embarrassing! All I could think of was: “Here I am at the NASA Langley Research Center and I can’t even find my office. They are going to fire me on the spot.” Fortunately some of the guys saw me standing there trying to decide where to go and they were kind enough to help me out. The people I’ve worked with have always had that kind of attitude, where they help folks where needed and are always very encouraging.