Who I am and what I Do
I am a professor of astronomy
at San Jose State University. I do research for NASA during the summers.
I use computers to figure out how planets form, and what they are made
Areas of expertise:
My area of expertise is physics, which is the study of how things
The most important skill for this job isn't actually a skill—it
is curiosity. To be a scientist, the one thing you need more than anything
else is the natural urge to wonder why things are the way they are:
Why is the sky blue? Why is the sun yellow? Why does the moon look
different every night, and why is does it always seem to be in a different
place? How can you find Mars or Jupiter in the night sky?
Most people are very surprised when I tell them that a very important
skill is to be a good communicator. Communication is a two-way street—you
have to be really good at learning (listening) and also you have to
be a good teacher at the same time. The reason is that science is a
team sport, no one really works all by himself or herself in this business.
You have to effectively communicate to your colleagues what you've
learned, and you have to listen carefully and patiently to others in
order to learn from them.
How I first became interested in this profession
When I was a little girl, I would spend a lot of time wondering
why things were the way they were. I can remember lying in the grass
looking up on a windless day, yet the clouds were moving by, and I wondered
whether it was because the earth was turning or if there was wind higher
up. (I now know that it's because there can be wind high up when there
is no wind near the ground!) I spent an awful lot of time just wondering
about things, and I was also very good at math—I tried to figure
quicker ways of doing my math homework! :-)
What helped me prepare for this job
Getting a good education, with lots of science, math, and computers
was the biggest help. But I took advantage of every opportunity that
came my way; I pushed myself to try new things and to open myself up
to new experiences. This helps in all aspects of life—not just
in being a scientist!
My role models or inspirations
I didn't really have any role models. I never met any scientists
before I went to college. I can remember liking Carl Sagan on his TV
show Cosmos. And I always loved those TV shows about
dinosaur hunters—I knew I wanted to do what they did, or something
My education and training -- How I got to this point
I wish I knew! Mostly, it was to hang in there for a very long
time, and it wasn't always terribly exciting or fulfilling. But I knew
that science was the right place for me, I just had to find my place
in it. And my place now is mostly teaching, but also doing research.
My career path
When I was a junior in college (1990), I applied for a summer
job to do research in astronomy. I became very interested in the subject,
and made some contacts with a person at NASA Ames who later because my
Ph.D. thesis advisor. I went to Ames to finish working on my Ph.D. I
did a postdoc there, and another postdoc at the UW in Seattle. I did
some part-time teaching at small colleges on and off during that time,
and found that I was a really good teacher and I really enjoyed it! I
got a professor job at San Jose State University last year and I love
What I like best about my job
I like that my job involves working with a lot of people, both
students and my research colleagues. I hate sitting in my office alone!
It is very rewarding to see the light bulb go on over my students' heads. Also,
I love to travel, and I have been able to go to the most amazing places
in this job, including Antarctica, Korea, Poland, Spain, Germany, and
all over the US. This summer, I will be going to China for the first
time, to attend a conference there and present my research.
What I like least about my job
I do not like that
sometimes I feel pressured when my research life encroaches upon
my teaching, and vice versa. I find I cannot neglect one over the
other, and when I am trying to be all things to all people, I can
get very stressed out.
My advice to anyone interested in this occupation
Take every math and science course offered at your school. Major in science in
college, but take writing classes also, even if they are not required. Once
you get through college, be prepared for a lot of relocating, and I don't mean
just down the street. This is not the kind of job where you can live in one
place for your entire life. Chances are, you will live in at least three different
states at different times during your career, and I know some people who have
lived in as many as 7 or 8 different places over the years. Or more. And, an
advanced degree in science does not mean you'll be making a ton of money! You
will be comfortable but not rich.
You have to do it ultimately because it is rewarding and interesting.
It hasn't been easy, but I would not have done anything differently.
All the hard work, stress, and everything else have totally been worth
Last Updated: January 13, 2005