Meet Dawn McIntosh
"The challenge of discovering something
Who I Am and What I Do
The things I like the best and least about my job are the same: I like and dislike the challenge of discovering something new. It's so fun and frustrating, exciting and irritating to figure out how to make a computer program do what you want, or analyze data and find out something you didn't know before. It takes a long time to learn something new, and that's hard for me, I like instant answers (those don't happen very often). But it's also the best feeling in the world when you finally figure it out. Not only am I relieved to have information after a long struggle, but I'm thrilled with the new information itself.
In grade school I could never decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. It changed all the time: gymnast, fire fighter, author, astronaut. In Junior High, I liked Computers the most, and Math second best. And in High School, it was English. I was never one of those people who know their whole life what they want to be. Just because you don't like science now, or think it's hard, stick with it, you might decide later that it's exactly what you want to do.
As a kid, I liked to read every single book I could get my hands on. In grade school, I got really good grades. It was easy for me, and I felt very lucky. Then when I got to junior high, school became much harder and I didn't do so well. Worse, I didn't know how to ask my teachers and parents for help studying. I struggled for a long time, and my parents and teachers did help meeven though I didn't ask, and what I discovered was that I didn't become stupid, like I thought, I just had never learned how to study. I'm still learning. Studying math is very different than studying English. And since there are lots of things I still want to learn, I have to figure out how to study better all the time.
I got my Bachelor's degree from San Francisco State University in Astrophysics. That means I studied both Physics and Astronomy. I started my Masters program in Physics at San Jose State University, but I later decided to switch to Engineering at Stanford. When I finished my Bachelor's Degree, I applied for a job at NASA Ames as a contractor. I was hired by the Earth Science department and worked with a group studying the Earth's atmosphere. After a couple of years, I applied for a civil servant position (means I work for the federal government rather than a company) as an Engineer at NASA Ames. That was only 6 months ago. I'm still figuring out how to do my new job, and it's been fun learning a whole new field.
I have lots of role models. Some are from my personal life. My parents, who taught me the importance of family. They owned their own businesswhich sometimes can be difficultand taught me to work hard, and to enjoy what you do. My sister, because she is one of the most capable people I know. My husband, because he is so easygoing, loves science, and laughs all of the time. Some are from my professional life. Dr. Adrienne Cool is an astrophysicist and has been one of my role models for years. She helped me learn how to do research, which is a lot different than studying books about science. It's also much more fun. Dr. Tim Castellano is an astronomer I know. He is a role model because he came back to college and became an astronomer after he'd already had a career in a different field. Dr. Yvonne Pendleton is another excellent astronomer at NASA Ames Research Center. She also spends much of her time teaching children about astronomy which I believe is just as important as learning astronomy for yourself.
Future Plans and Goals
If you are trying to decide what field you would like to work on, my advice is to choose a career because you love it. Have you heard that before? Probably, but that's because many people don't follow the advice and then regret it. There are parts of science that I find really hard, but I always stuck with it. Mostly because I love it, and also because I'm super-stubborn.
Last Updated: June 12, 2002