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Meet: Margarita Marinova

photo of Margarita with Kilmanjaro in background
Research Associate
NASA Ames Research Center

Career Fact Sheet Print Version Coming Soon

Who I am and what I do
I am currently a graduate student at the California Institute of Technology. I have just started my thesis work, and it will mainly focus on large impacts in the Solar System, and specifically their importance in the evolution and current geology and geomorphology of Mars. In addition to that, I am involved with a number of projects at NASA Ames Research Center, such as the Lassen project.

My work consists of going out into the field to collect data - finding ways to quantify what nature is doing, and then when I get back to the office I analyze the data and write computer models to simulate what nature is doing.

How I first became interested in this profession
My interest in space has grown from when I was very young. My first memory is that I was very upset when I broke my arm because in those days that meant I couldn't become an astronaut! (In those days the physical requirements were pretty stringent.) My interest in space and Mars really bloomed when I entered high school and had a lot more freedom and knowledge to explore different topics. Since then it has been an exhilerating ride learning increasingly more about these topics.

What helped prepare me for this job
I would say the most important things for being a planetary scientist are curiousity, perseverence, and math. To be a good scientist you need to be able to ask good questions, and a general curiousity is definitely key in that! Of course perseverence is key, since in any job - and studying - there are times when going to the beach sounds more fun than completing that paper... And for what I do - especially modeling natural environments - I have found math to really be key. With a good foundation in math, it is relatively easy to learn about the other aspects of geology and biology or any of the other sciences.

My role models
Being involved in internships has been the most important influence in getting to where I am today. My teachers in high school were always very supportive of my interest in space. Doing research with amazing professors showed me just how much impact you can have on the world with science - from inspiring students, to doing basic research that will in the future be key to developing new technologies.

My education and training
While in high school, I took all the math and science classes that were offered. I also worked at the local university as a research assistant, absorbing as much as possible for the amazing people I had the pleasure of working for. I then went on to study Aerospace Engineering at MIT for my undergrad. This I think was a great choice because it gave me a fairly strong background in math, and also it's always useful to understand how gadgets work.

After graduating from MIT, I worked in Germany in rocket propulsion research and development at EADS for a year, followed by a year at NASA Ames being involved in various projects. I think that working between undergrad and grad school was a great decision and it gave me a new perspective on science and technology - out in the "real world". The experiences made it clear to me what I wanted to do as a career.

While I don't know where life will take me after finishing my PhD at CalTech, I hope to eventually work in a profession that combines my knowledge of both aerospace engineering and planetary sciences in building space instruments and analyzing the data that comes back.

Margarita at sign on top of KilmanjaroWhat I like best about my job
I get very excited about learning new things about the universe, and with my job that's what I do every day! Whether it is finding something new when out in the field, or having computer model work and produce interesting results, it's an amazing feeling for me!
Also, as part of studying extreme environments, I get to travel to a lot of these places in order to collect data. I really love that aspect of my job as I get to visit and discover, in my opinion, some of the most beautiful places on this planet and really appreciate how amazing nature is!

My advice to anyone interested in this occupation
If you would like to be involved in science, there is really so much out there to study and learn! Going to talks and reading science books is a great way to figure out what you like and the kind of job you'd like to have. In my job, I would say study whichever subject area you find most interesting - not necessarily, for example, geology or astrophysics - and on top of that take as much math as you can, because it will help in so many ways later on! Follow your passions and you'll get to where you want to go!


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