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Meet: Paul Askins

a photo of Paul

Test Manager

My Career
I have been a test manager for the past eight years at NASA Ames Research Center. My position includes planning and executing wind tunnel tests in the 40 x 80 and the 80 x 120 test sections. I graduated from California Polytechnic State University , San Luis Obispo. I started working for NASA in 1988 as a facility engineer and found it a great place to work. I switched to my current role as a test engineer about 1991.

I always enjoyed airplanes and aeronautics. Working in the wind tunnel I have the opportunity to work with both. My real enjoyment comes from working on the mechanical side of wind tunnel testing. For me the best part of engineering is getting your hands dirty and working hands-on with the equipment. Too many engineers have to sit in front of a computer screen all day long, without getting to see actual working hardware. Testing in the wind tunnel requires finding solutions to real-world engineering problems.

The positive aspects of my career include being able to problem solve with mechanical systems and working with all the people, from mechanics to software programmers, required to make a wind-tunnel test happen. Along with the positive there comes the negative. To me, the negative side involves keeping budgets, which to me is the most stressful thing I do. I also have to complete my projects within a very tight time frame, which is often hard to do with all the problems and changes that occur.

As a Child
As a child, I always built and played with models, like cars, airplanes, etc. As I got older, I started to work on and modify real cars. I have found that having a really strong interest in how things work helps to prepare you for any engineering career you decide on. Everything you know about how mechanical and electronic systems work will make a difference in problem-solving situations later on in your career.

I've always been a voracious reader, mostly books and magazines on cars, airplanes, etc. I like to tinker with cars in my spare time. I always have a few "project" cars that I'm working on.

The more work experience you get, the more you will learn about the field you want to be in. Getting job experience (like summer internships, co-ops, etc.) will make you a much better engineer, or help you decide that one kind of engineering is more to your liking than another. I can't emphasize this enough. To be happy in your career you need to find a job that really makes you WANT to come to work in the morning.

My high school math teachers were a big influence on me. I had real problems with math in elementary school. I was lucky to have a succession of great teachers who where able to help me to understand and to use math. Good math skills, especially the ability to solve real problems, is the foundation of engineering and, indeed, most scientific careers as well.

Future Plans
In the future I think I want to go back more into mechanical design and work with CAE (Computer Aided Engineering) systems also. Keeping current with the latest trends in engineering is very important in your career. You should NEVER stop learning.


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