Monday, August 15, 2016


Even at 16, I was focused on space!

It has been over a month since my last catch-up blog entry. What a crazy month it has been! I started my new position at Northern Sky Research, which I'll write about later because it's awesome. Moving, selling a house, and buying a house have been enormously time-consuming. I am pleased to report that our Florida home is on the market and we're in contract to move into our new home north of Columbus, Ohio in a month. In the meantime, we're living in a hotel room. All of us. My husband, our crawling-and-cruising baby, three cats, a dog, and fish. Life is an adventure.

Recently, there was a trending Twitter hashtag (with variants): #firstsevenjobs. I've always found people's journeys fascinating. I had to really think about my life, where I started and how far I've come, in order to write my first seven jobs progression. It's difficult to remember life as a 16-year-old just starting out making minimum wage. A high school student with dreams, plans, and potential! It seemed that each job represented another step in my journey, another chapter in my life.

It was just as interesting to read others' journeys, posted in fewer than 140 characters. Some posters, early in their careers, shine potential and hope. Others, later in their careers, embody calm satisfaction with where they are. Surprisingly, some successful careers took fewer than 7 jobs to achieve, especially military careers. Great for them! Some successful careers were preceded by so many lower-level jobs that 7 wasn't enough to paint a picture of success. But they got there. Or they will.

The diversity of paths is what fascinates me the most. Everyone's first seven jobs were completely different and mostly unpredictable. We do a disservice to kids by implying they must choose their careers young and not diverge from their (or someone else's) chosen path. No one's path is straight and plan-able. But we all end up going somewhere.

From an early age, I fell in love with space and decided that what I wanted to dedicate myself to. But that's not a job title nor a job path. I had to feel my way through it. In high school, I felt lost, not knowing how to get there or who to ask. Authority figures were supportive but just as unknowing. We all knew college was a good place to start!

Even before college, I had a first job: babysitter. Based on my high school circle, I would have thought babysitting was a common first job. This doesn't seem to be the case based on what others tweeted. I had brief side gigs selling things and tutoring, but for the most part, I watched other people's kids. I babysat under-the-table, then obtained my first official job at age 16 in childcare at the local YMCA making minimum wage.

I'm grateful to the professors and administration at my undergraduate university emphasizing the importance of internships and career-relevant experience. The summer after my freshman year of college, I sought my first astronomy internship. I had no idea how to get one. With cold calling, I obtained a volunteering astronomy research position while also obtaining my second official job: selling shoes in a mall department store for minimum wage plus commission. I was terrible at it. Thankfully, my volunteer position ended up being paid, leading to job #3 and my first career-related job at age 19: astronomy research assistant.

I'm so very grateful to the professors who gave me a chance. Many people's third jobs aren't positions related to their intended career. This position led to every other step and success in my career. Without this starting point, I wouldn't be where I am today. From them, I learned about scientific research, programming, data analysis, and technical writing. I was officially a scientist-in-training.

I returned to that job for a second summer, but not before beginning job #4: student newspaper editor-in-chief. I've held numerous volunteer position, including some career-related, that I don't consider to be official jobs. After a year of voluntarily serving as news editor, I was paid (minimally) to lead the student newspaper for two years. It was a time-consuming, thankless job, but I learned quite a bit about communication, language, marketing, and layout. And I was "banned from NASA for life" - ha!

I landed my first NASA internship at Marshall Space Flight Center during the summer after my junior year. Job #5 had a similar title as job #3: astrophysics research associate. I spent a second summer with that same position before transitioning from intern to graduate research assistant, job #8. But not before taking on job #6: grader for a freshman physics class. During that summer between undergraduate and graduate school, I also helped run the internship program as an assistant operations manager, job #7. The summer ended and grad school began.

From high school babysitter to astrophysics graduate student in seven jobs and six years. That's a long way! In the following decade, I've become a chemical engineer, a planetary science graduate research assistant, a space industry analyst, a scientific research analyst for International Space Station payloads, a regional operations manager for a space start-up, a high school tutor, and an independent space analyst and scientist.

By my count, I'm up to jobs #15 and #16 (simultaneously). And I provide full-time childcare for my infant, but I'm not paid for that. Sixteen paid positions, and I'm still early/mid career! Insert millennial joke here.

Each person's path is unique. Very rarely is it straight and predictable. Very rarely do first (or second or third) jobs indicate someone's career path or potential. From the start I had a goal – space – but not everyone does. And that's okay. We keep on trying, keep on going, keep on reaching and exploring. I'm looking forward to seeing where my journey takes me.

How's your career journey going?


  1. Mine isn't going so hot at the moment. I'm still waiting for someone to hire me in order to launch what I hope will be the rest of my career.