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Online from Jupiter 97

Karen Buxbaum

Assistant Manager for Science Planning

I am Karen Buxbaum, the Assistant Manager for Science Planning on the Galileo Project. I work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, also known as JPL. I have worked at JPL for 6 1/2 years and I have always been on the Galileo flight team. My Project Manager jokingly says that's as it should be, but some people only stay on one project for a couple years and then they switch to a new assignment. I've had a great time working on Galileo for several reasons.

Ever since I joined the project, I've had lots of new things to learn, and there is always some big challenge or some different kind of task to do. Some jobs can get kind of monotonous, but this one never does. Also, I enjoy doing one thing long enough to get really good at it. That way, I can get the satisfaction of becoming an expert and also I can make a real contribution.

I guess you'll expect me to say that I have a degree in Astronomy or Space Physics or Planetary Geology. Nope. In college I majored in biology (the study of living things) and I was sure that I wanted to become a marine biologist and teacher. I took a lot of different classes, but I took more biology and chemistry than anything else. Then I went to graduate school and pursued my studies and research in zoology (the study of animals). Little by little I drifted away from the marine biology and got more into doing research on biological membranes (no planets so far).

After a lot of hard work I got a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering--I knew some really unique stuff about red blood cell membranes that hardly anyone else knew at the time. Getting the Ph.D. was a big achievement and has really helped me in my career even though I didn't stay in biology. I took a little detour after graduate school and went to work in the computer industry for several years.

I lived and worked in Vancouver, Canada for 4 years and then moved to California. After I had been in California for 3 years, I decided I really wanted to work at JPL. I wrote a lot of letters to people here, came to talk to a lot of them (I lived nearby), learned as much as I could about the place, and eventually got my first job as a science planner on the Galileo Project.

When I started on Galileo , I knew very little about the details involved in spacecraft operations and planning. I learned most of what I now know by doing my job and taking on whatever challenges came my way. Some people refer to this as "on the job training." I think that much of what we learn in life is on the job training. If you think of being a student as your main job as a young person, then you will be able to relate to what I am saying. You might get more "tests" than I do, but I still have to do "A" quality work, satisfy my managers and my colleagues, and get evaluated at least once each year. So, when I came to Galileo, it was a lot like taking on a totally new subject. I worked at it and did well.

Over the years, the work paid off--I was promoted to Deputy Team Chief and then to Team Chief for science planning. In 1994, after a flight team reorganization, I earned one more promotion to Assistant Office Manager (on Galileo, "office" is higher up than "team"). The cool thing about all of this is that the world didn't require me to stay in the field I chose as a university student. By using my skills (learning, thinking, managing, communicating) I was able to enjoy some flexibility and make the change. Facts are important, but skills are even more important. I kind of miss the biology, and I still want to become a teacher; but my current job at JPL offers endless challenges, fun, and even a little piece of history!

I have a life outside of work, too. I have been married for 14 years and have a son in the 5th grade and one in the 1st grade. My 5th grader plays baseball, loves anything to do with Magic Cards, and reads a lot books. My 1st grader plays soccer, loves Magic Cards (mostly because of his big brother), is learning to read, and likes micromachines. They both want a dog. My husband also works at JPL. His special interest is in polar oceanography and global climate change. For me, a family, a job, and enough exercise to keep healthy takes up most of my time, so I am waiting a few years to get back to some of my former hobbies--gardening, baking, outdoor sports, and writing.


 

 
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