Thursday, May 26, 2016

Lessons Learned Attending a Professional Conference with a Baby (Part 1)

I will be writing a separate entry about the science and updates learned from Space Congress in Cape Canaveral this week. But I felt it was important for me to write on this topic first. 

I've never seen a baby at a professional conference before. Prior to having my own baby, it never would have occurred to me that a mother would choose to take her child with her. Now that I have a baby of my own who refuses a bottle, my only choices are to participate in my profession with the baby or not participate at all. Yesterday, I chose to stand out from the crowd.

I didn't know how anyone would react to my presence with the baby. Worst case scenario, I thought I'd be denied entry or asked to leave. Second-worst case, I thought the baby would scream, causing me to miss most of the conference I paid for. I didn't know if anyone would stare at me or make a negative comment about how unprofessional or disruptive it was to bring a baby. I prepared to defend my choice, if necessary.

Fears are usually all in our head. Not only was I welcomed with the baby, I received so many compliments! By the end of the day, at least four people told me that they hadn't heard a peep from her and she was the most well behaved baby they had ever seen. It's not that she didn't make a peep, it's that I contained her well. She kept me on my toes!

I learned a new wrap style for the occasion: outward facing carry. I still wrap her in a sling style when nursing discretely, but my 5-month-old no longer wants to face my chest. She wants to see the world! The outward facing wrap is the most secure wrap style I've learned yet and was truly hands-free. It was perfect for times when I needed to walk around and mingle such as during the talk breaks and exhibit hall networking.

To my surprise, I did not spend all of my time standing and bouncing her along the wall. Instead, I found a back corner away from foot traffic and closest to the bathroom. There I laid out a small blanket and some toys, plugged in my laptop, and sat on the floor to listen and work. It was ideal! I may have looked silly to others, but this really was the best possible arrangement. The baby kept herself well occupied, I could work without holding her or constantly moving her active hands away from my laptop, and we were completely out of the eyesight of all conference attendees except those walking along the back of the room.

Playing with the conference swag on the floor. - May 25, 2016

In retrospect, it was a wise move on my part to wear pants instead of the cute pencil skirt I had wanted to wear. Sitting on the floor with legs in any direction would not have worked well in a skirt or dress. It was also smart of me to wear a cowl neckline.

Listening to the conference speakers uninterrupted only happened when the baby was napping. Unlike a normal day, she only dozed off for short periods of time – no long naps. Applause would wake her, usually just for a moment, but sometimes stirring was enough to snap her out of her slumber. As a result, at no time was I away from my baby and able to attend the conference as a normal professional except when two of the college-aged conference volunteers asked to hold her.

I was able to attend all of the conference talks (except when I stayed in the exhibit hall for too long during a break). Even though I was in and out a lot, I was able to get a lot out of attending. I live tweeted and I took notes. I got the gist of the conversation. I was surprised at how much of the conference I could actually attend.

As someone put it yesterday, a baby and a dog in a crowd have similar outcome: people flock to you for the cuteness. A baby is an effective networking aid. Colleagues and strangers alike approached to meet the baby and, secondarily, me. She was a natural conversation starter. The one negative was that because time was short and the baby was easy to talk about, I didn't talk as much “shop” as I would have liked. Part of that was also the fault of the conference schedule: too few and too short breaks. I had hoped that the 6:00 networking session would make up for it, but by that point, the baby had had enough and it was time to go home.

Josephine on a Journey to Mars. - May 25, 2016

Overall, taking my baby with me to a professional conference was a success. I tear up when I think of how supportive my space community is. So many positive comments and words of encouragement! I want to thank every one of you who helped me to get over my fear of negative judgment and do what works best for us. I feel so blessed to have such beautiful people in my life.

This local conference was practice. The test is next week's three-day out-of-state conference. Stay tuned!

Also, Josephine got to meet her fifth astronaut and take additional photos with ones she had already met. And she went to Mars!

Curious Josephine hanging out with Curiosity rover. - May 25, 2016

Monday, May 23, 2016

Am I Building My Dreams, or Someone Else's?

“If you don't build your dream, someone else will hire you to help them build theirs.”

This quote, attributed to several sources, struck me when I read it last week. I've been going through a period of self-evaluation lately. What am I doing? Where do I want to go? What should I be doing to get there? This quote struck at the heart of my inquiry. What are my dreams, and am I building them or simply helping others to build theirs?

A lot has changed in my life in the past six months. The company I worked for closed its doors. I gave birth to my first child. Naturally, my life has adapted to changes beyond my control. My work has shifted away from a traditional 9-to-5 office job and toward a flexible schedule around my family life. While I've always been a multitasker, I'm even more so now as I balance multiple clients and projects as well as seek new opportunities. I've never been happier, more satisfied, and more at peace with my work-life balance than I am right now.

Am I building my dream, or am I simply for hire to build others' dreams? Does it matter? Can't it be the same thing?

My dream since childhood has been to do work involving space. I especially wanted to be an astronaut! I still do, not a NASA astronaut but instead a private one. The path forward for private spaceflight is still unclear, so I wait and watch for the right opportunity that doesn't cost as much as my house.

As for doing work involving space – check – been doing that for 13 years now. I defy advice to specialize and instead have collected skill sets, experiences, and interests like a hoarder: astronomy, astrophysics, space telescopes, telescope manufacturing, planetary science, experimental dust dynamics, in-situ resource utilization, space industry analysis, space policy, microgravity payloads, ISS operations, physical sciences and technology development research, proposal evaluation and review, parabolic aircraft operations, event planning and promotions, social media and communications, STEM nonprofit education and outreach, and business development. Where do I fit? Everywhere; all if it.

Each job I've had has brought me closer to where I want to be. Each job I've had wasn't a perfect fit and had its flaws, but it gave me experiences, insight, and opportunity to move forward. Each move has helped me to build a great career and bring me to where I am today.

An opportunity was presented to me two weeks ago, another potential path. It was a path from my past, one I rejected but always wondered if I shouldn't have. The opportunity presented seemed too good to be true. And I wanted it. I thought of it as a way to jump back on a path from the past and ride it to wherever it would go. I got my hopes up. But as it almost always is the case, this too good to be true opportunity was too good to be true. Reality was less appealing. In fact, it was a giant step backward. I closed that door once more.

Building my dreams requires me to identify my dreams. I couldn't detail them for you. I have vague notions. I'm pressing ahead with them, defining them as I go.

In truth, I miss science. I don't get to do it much these days, just bits here and there as I consult others. I miss getting my hands dirty. I miss conducting new research that no one else has done before in order to progress our understanding of the world. A well-meaning colleague recently told me that I'm not qualified to do independent research with just a master's degree and ABD on my PhD. I completely disagree, and I find that attitude insulting to the scientists and engineers out there who conduct independent research and move their fields forward without the title Doctor. Of course I can do my own research. Of course I can write and win my own proposals. I just need to identify what I want to pursue first, then go for it.

I have various projects that are of my own creation. I'm writing a book about millennials in the space industry, telling their stories, because it interests me. I've just resurrected the idea of a survey of emerging space (newspace) companies, because it interests me. I'm active in advising and promoting state and national space policy issues, because it interests me. These aren't dreams I'm building. These are tiny building blocks of a dream to normalize space happenings to make it relevant to everyone and anyone.

That is my dream. It's big and it's broad. It requires countless people working on countless projects, big and small. It doesn't have a definite end or time frame. It's wide-reaching and global. It's an honor to help build others' dreams, if their dreams coincide with mine. It's fun, it's exciting, and it helps me to see our mutual dreams in a new light. I love working with clients who can help me to build my dream as I help them to build theirs. It's symbiotic and harmonious. And I've only just begun!

Aside from the financial side, I'm working the best job I've ever had. Will you build your dream with me?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Career Sacrifices: No Tours for Me

My nearly 5-month-old refuses to take a bottle. She used to, now she doesn't, preferring to scream and starve if given the option. And in fact she did go on a hunger strike for around 8 hours when I left her with my husband for a day, which is how we made this discovery. Therefore, I cannot be physically apart from my baby for more than 2 hours without feeling exceptionally bad for the adult caring for her (i.e., my husband).

I am given the choice to participate in my profession with my baby or opt out. I've been choosing to participate when I can. I'm just as competent, passionate, and ambitious in my career with my baby as I was before. However, there are limitations to what I can do at the moment. Some plans are on hold. Others are delayed or take more time. And some opportunities, as much as it pains me, must be sacrificed.

I have sacrificed two conferences/meetings this year and was ready to sacrifice a third before I jumped on-board with the planning committee to help out. I love this particular conference, and although I was prepared to miss it, I really didn't want to. So, I committed, with my baby. In 15 days, I'll be on a plane to Denver, traveling with my child and no other adult, determined to make this work during the three-day conference.

I won't be able to participate as widely as I usually do. I'm willing to sacrifice the opportunity to listen to every speaker or to hear every word coming from their mouths. I've already sacrificed the chance to present a poster because it would be too much to handle with the baby. I'm willing to sacrifice networking time if I need to change a diaper instead. I'm prepared to leave for the airport earlier and set aside more time to allow myself to eat. I know I'll sacrifice sleep; that goes without saying for the parent of a young one. And, unfortunately, I'll need to sacrifice special opportunities to see things I may not ever get the chance to see again.

I got excited when I saw the news: a chance to tour Ball Aerospace! Cool! I'm a visual learner. I learn by seeing and by doing. I jump on the chance to take tours, to experience the atmosphere around the work being done, and to ask question after question of the tour leaders. I'm their favorite kind of visitor because I'm engaged, learning, snapping photos (when allowed), tweeting, and getting the word out. I soak it up.

But the baby. How could I take a tour with the baby? They probably wouldn't allow me to bring her because of safety standards or some other policy. What if I need to walk her away from the crowd to calm her down? What if she spits up over their equipment? What if I need to do an emergency diaper change? In a hotel banquet hall, I can take care of her. On a company's secured property, it would be a lot harder. Could I even safely take her on the tour bus without the car seat anchored to the vehicle?

Sadly, I decided to sit that one out. But then, a second tour! This one of Sierra Nevada Corporation's facilities. And oh, how I wanted to go. I thought about it, thinking of how I could make it work. I even started composing an email asking if I could bring her. But the same issues arose again and again in my head. I just can't.

Usually, I'm all about asking forgiveness rather than permission. But in these cases, even I don't think I can justify asking permission. As a working mother, I make sacrifices for my child. This is one of them.

How do other women do it?

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Space Science Awesomeness at Florida Space Institute and a Reusable Rocket in the Port

Hello pretty reusable rocket stage! - May 10, 2016

I have an internal debate every time. Should I bring my baby to this professional event? Why shouldn't I? But I've never seen anyone else bring a baby. What are my options, aside from skipping the event? Will anyone actually care?

Lately, the debate has been decided by this definitive statement: “I'm about to bring a baby to a conference for three whole days. I need to get over it.”

And so, for the National Space Club's monthly luncheon, I brought my baby along with me. The guest speaker was Ray Lugo, the head of the Florida Space Institute (FSI) which I was sort of under as a graduate student at the University of Central Florida (UCF). I wasn't going to miss his talk about my grad university and colleagues!

Attendees immediately made me feel welcome as I walked through the door with Josephine in my arms. The first person I spoke with, Barry, told me that he was glad I brought her. To my surprise, three people took photos with me and her. Eddie put my unsettled mind at ease, telling me that he brought his kid to events like this when they were little. The man I sat next to even plated my salad and poured my water for me. Thank you, everyone!

She slept while I ate. Then awoke and babbled during the talk! - May 10, 2016

Ray gave an overview of FSI for those unfamiliar. This began with an overview of the professors, all of which I knew and had worked with during my time as a graduate student. Then he went over some of their current research project. First, Josh Colwell and Addie Dove's projects. Strata-1 is a regolith size distribution project launched to the International Space Station. The cubesat experiment Q-PACE is another regolith experiment to study dust dynamics in microgravity, very similar to my grad research. NanoRocks, which had just begun when I was a student, flew on ISS in 2014 with NanoRacks.

Next, Phil Metzger's projects. World is Not Enough (WINE) is a collaboration with Honeybee Robotics to develop an ISS cubesat to test in-situ resource utilization technology such as sample acquisition, volatiles capture, and 3D-printed cold gas thrusters that use water vapor. Phil is also working on developing asteroid simulants and ISRU using clay but the slides moved too quickly for me to read it all.

Ray then discussed some of Dan Britt's projects such as the development of Martian sensors and a mission called Gulliver to conduct Martian moon sample return. He also mentioned an Earth observation cubesat mission and ground-penetrating radar to study asteroids. He concluded his talk by mentioning that UCF may bid to take over the operationsof the Arecibo observatory in Puerto Rico.

Ray Lugo at the National Space Club Florida Committee luncheon - May 10, 2016

Already at Port Canaveral for the talk, I stopped by Milliken's to check out the recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stage that launch and landed on a ship in the ocean on Friday. I stepped off the sidewalk onto a little dirt path so I could get a shot with the rocks and palm frond. So cool! I love living in Florida.

A space geek, a reusable rocket, and a baby. - May 10, 2016

Thank you, National Space Club Florida Committee, for making this working mom feel welcome.