My job title is Science Operations Specialist. Primarily my responsibilities here are
to ensure that the data from the spacecraft (the Hubble) arrives into our processing
pipeline (it comes to us in raw, machine language), then make sure it runs through our
processing pipeline, where it is converted from the raw, machine language format to
something that you can type out and read or display as an image. After this I send the
data off to the Archives Branch where it is stored on giant optical disks (really huge
CDs), and a copy is forwarded on to the original researcher who requested this data.
I was always interested in the sciences, primarily the earth sciences, all through
elementary and junior high school. Wasn't a big fan of the biological sciences; they
didn't "grab me". When I hit 8th grade, the first thing we studied was astronomy. After
the first week I knew, then and there, I was going to pursue a career in astronomy - in
some way, shape, or form!
From there on out I began to find every book and magazine I could on the subject of
astronomy. I was working a paper route at the time, and saved every penny I could to
purchase a serious telescope (not one of those little K-Mart-type ones). I still have it
to this day. I would go out at night and just sit and study the sky. I would get up at
4am on my own volition, drag my telescope up the street to a clearing, and study the
stars and planets. I studied and plotted how the planets moved for fun. I got very
interested in black holes and studied everything I could find on them, and on my own,
wrote a mini-research paper about Black Holes. Proudly I showed it to my 8th grade
science teacher, who took it, looked it over, and gave me an 'A' for the semester.
He kept the paper. I never saw it again (and was a little upset 'cause I wanted to
keep it for my *own* records). I hadn't written it for him to keep; I wrote it for me.
After junior high I continued reading everything I could find. I read *every*
astronomy book our library had, and signed on for subscriptions to the astronomy
magazines of 'Sky &Telescope' and 'Astronomy'.I joined the local astronomy club, went out
and did various observations, and even did a science fair project on photographing the
sun (I also discovered photography at this time, and was fascinated in seeing what I
could and could not do with photography and astronomy).
After high school I went off to college to pursue my dreams in astronomy. Took a
couple years longer than normal, but I eventually graduated with a bachelor's degree in
astronomy. A year later I stumbled upon some job openings here at the Space Telescope
Science Institute and applied. A few months later I hobbled through the doors (I had in
between times managed to shatter my leg in a rock climbing accident) as a new employee to
the Space Telescope Science Insitute. And here I am (my leg is better now, thanks).
The best thing about my job is getting the opportunity to see things no human before
us has ever seen until now. The worst thing[about my job is when the software breaks
after the software people gave us some upgrades to fix something. But like it is
popularly said in the computer community: 'software upgrades are where you take out old
bugs and replace them with new ones.' Very frustrating.
As far as a student today getting involved or preparing for an astronomy- related
career, go read everything you can find. Join a local astronomy club (too many
professional astronomers surprisingly couldn't point out a constellation if it came up
and bipped them in the nose). Make it fun - astronomy is *supposed* to be fun, as well as
being cutting edge science. Amateur astronomers are some of the most 'cutting edge'
people around; find them. They do independent studies of variable stars, meteors, and
comet hunting. The Internet offers you today something I didn't have: an electronic
access to thousands of astronomical resources - including HST data. For example, if you
came up with a research project you wished to do using data from the Hubble Space
Telescope, the archive branch has online every observation we have ever made in the 5+
years since launch. You can poke around in the archives to find what you need, and when
you find it, pull it out for your own studying.
My 8th grade science teacher, Jerry Jividen, was probably the most influential person
in my choice/decision of what career I followed. Yeah, definitely. He once threatened to
break both my arms and legs if I did not go on a 9-day geology field trip around Ohio
with the rest of the hand-picked kids (I didn't think that I was good enough, and I wasn't
*that* interested in geology - big mistake on my part; geology's cool). I went along and
ended up holding my own star nights during the trip (brought along a small telescope for
the venture, too). He just sat off in the shadows and smiled.
He also told me once he didn't believe I was going to become an astronomer, that I
would become a park ranger instead. When he told me this I was so absorbed in astronomy
that I wasn't letting anything get in my way. I thought I would show him that I was true
to my dreams and prove him wrong, but he already knew that I would go the distance. He
was just giving me a hard time.
On the side I've gotten involved with a research project using the Hubble Telescope
itself, in seeking out low-mass companions around nearby stars. Haven't found anything
yet, but we're not done searching, either!
When I'm not otherwise involved at work, you can probably find me out somewhere
climbing (my favorite thing in the universe), caving, mountaineering, or hiking/camping
in the backcountry. At home I spend my time doing lot of reading, listening to a variety
of music, participating in mentally stimulating tactical board games, surfing the Internet,
growing a *ton* of plants, or watching Babylon 5 (my second favorite thing in the universe).
Or sleeping. *grin*