T e r r y  K u c e r a
Solar Physicist
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Terry discusses the latest data with
Art Poland, another SOHO scientist.

When I was finishing up graduate school I began asking around about jobs. Someone I'd worked with told me that her group at NASA/Goddard was looking for a young scientist for a two year position studying X-rays from solar flares, and I got the job. When that job ended, I went to the scientist in charge of SOHO at Goddard to ask if they had any jobs open & here I am.

Sometimes I am pretty surprised that I am now working as a professional astronomer, and that I like it so much. When I was a kid and thought about astronomy I really had no idea what astronomers actually did (stare through telescopes all the time?). I liked reading articles in astronomy magazines, but didn't know what kind of work was behind those articles. It takes lots of different people with different skills and interests to "do" astronomy and space science. People have to build and operate the telescopes and other instruments, write computer software, analyze the data, work out the physics behind it all, explain the results to other scientists and the public, and coordinate all the people doing those tasks. I don't do all those different things, but I do at least a little of a number of them and it is fun.

I manage to keep pretty busy outside of work. These days it is mostly bicycling, dancing, reading, and practicing the mandolin.

What I like about my job:

This job is full of interesting challenges and there are lots of different things to do - you are never done learning. Working on the team of a spacecraft mission means that you meet and work with lots of great people who care about what they are doing. They come from all over the world, and, in addition to meeting them when they come here, I get to travel too (I've been to both France and Japan for work in addition to lots of places in the US). It's fun to work as a team with people to get a project done, but I also have time to work on things by myself. Finally, I am pretty much in charge of my own time, so I decide what I want to do and when.

What I don't like:

It's usually pretty inactive - lots of staring at computer screens. Of course, this is true of many professional jobs these days. Also, if I want to stay in my field there are not all that many places I can work and live.

Some advice:

Pay attention to what you actually like doing, both in and out of school. When you have a job someday you'll probably be spending at least eight hours a day at it - it's best if you enjoy it! Also, be open to surprises and trying new things. Some of the most interesting and fun things I've done (like my current job!) were not things I planed ahead of time (although you certainly have to be have the background to take advantage of the opportunities that show up)

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