Blog Posts

Education, Engineering

3 Tips to Make Your Dreams Come True

I’ve had my eyes set on the sky for as long as I can remember. As a second grader I stood in the driveway in my hometown of West Fargo, North Dakota staring up at the dark night sky. It was that year I started talking about my dream of working for NASA or becoming an astronaut one day, and as any of my friends or former classmates can attest, I haven’t stopped talking about it since. No, I’m still not an astronaut (yet *haha*), but I’d say I’m living out that second grader’s day dreams just about as closely as I possibly can.

Here are 3 tips for making your dreams come true:

  1. My parents were always supportive of anything I set my mind to, even through that phase where I wanted to be a model and they took me to “casting” events. LOL. Surround yourself with those who help cultivate your dreams and kindly let go of those who serve as roadblocks. The road to success is paved with trials and tribulations and you’ll need your support system to help keep you on your feet not if, but when, you stumble.
  2. Make a roadmap of the steps you need to accomplish in order to make your dream reality. Visualize the end goal and put in the sometimes challenging work to truly think in detail about what you can do along your journey to help get you there. For example, after realizing I wanted to play a role in humanity’s journey to discovery and realizing NASA was, at the time, really the only path to getting there, I researched the backgrounds of NASA scientists, engineers, and astronauts to see what they studied in college. I set the starting point of my roadmap there. Be agile and adjust your course when needed.
  3. Be the squeaky wheel and let people know what you want. No one cares more about your career more than you do and if you don’t openly share your goals, no one can help you achieve them. A caveat to this, in the wise words of a fortune cookie, “Keep your goals away from the trolls.”

Ad astra,

Kate

Education

Graduate School Application Timeline

Below I’ve listed out what you should be planning to accomplish each month leading up to submitting your application for a Fall entry into graduate school. If you’re planning to start in the Spring, adjust by starting 6 months from the application deadline. Still thinking about whether or not you want to pursue a graduate degree? Check out some of my other blog posts on the topic: 1) Is Grad School “Worth It”? 2) Graduate School Application Tips.

July

  1. Do your research: Do your research to find out which colleges have programs, professors, and labs dedicated to the research or topic you’re interested in conducting or learning more about. Talk to professors at your undergraduate institution, employ the internet, ask colleagues. Make a list and rank them in order of precedence to you. Keep in mind that each school charges a non-refundable application fee of somewhere around $75-$100. It can get very expensive just to apply to graduate school so you may have to save up or pare down your list of schools.

August

  1. Take the GRE: When to take the test really depends on how much you plan to study and whether you want to have the option to take it more than once if you don’t get the score you want the first time around. Again, please remember that the exam is not cheap. It will cost you around $200 to take the GRE. Experts probably recommend first taking the test in something like August. I took the GRE twice: once in October and again in December during the application process.
    • For my favorite study resource, click here. The second time I took the test I wanted to improve my score so I utilized online test prep through Magoosh. Using this online tool, I improved my score by 8 percentile points in verbal reasoning, 18 percentile points in quantitative reasoning, and 17 percentile points in analytical writing! They have video lessons, flashcards, and practice questions and tests that help you in every area of the GRE. They also guarantee a +5 score improvement or your money back.
  2. Start drafting your Statement of Purpose: A clear statement of purpose is one of the major pieces that the admissions committee will be paying attention to while reviewing your application. Basically they want to know why you’re interested in pursuing a graduate degree and how you think their program will help you reach your goals. Click here for a brief article on how to write a statement of purpose.
  3. Polish your resume: You’ll need an updated resume to send to each person you request a letter of recommendation from. This will help them write the most personalized letter possible. Additionally, a resume, or portions of it, may be requested as part of your graduate school application or while applying to scholarships. It can also be helpful to send your resume to professors when reaching out about funding opportunities in their lab.

September

  1. Ask for Letters of Recommendation: Most schools will require 2-3 letters of recommendation. Do not wait until the last minute to ask for these. Many schools allow your recommenders to directly upload the letter via an e-mail link. Be sure to send your updated resume and personal statement (even if it’s only a draft) to your recommender so that they can write a more personal letter.
  2. Make a list of Professors with similar research interests: A good way to get a preliminary list of professors you’d like to talk to is to look at which schools have labs dedicated to the research areas you’re interested in or look for journal articles on those topics. Most schools provide contact info for professors on their websites and list their area(s) of specialty. Shoot over a brief e-mail with your resume attached sharing a one or two sentence background about you and why you’re interested in their research area. Let them know you’d like to learn more about the research they’re conducting and that they can learn more about you through your attached resume.

October

  1. Request Transcripts: Official college transcripts will be required as part of your application materials for each school.
  2. Reach out to Professors: If you’re planning to earn a spot in a specific professor’s lab, it’s important to reach out early on in the application process so that they don’t promise away all their funding to other students before you get to them. In my opinion, my persistence in reaching out to professors and being extremely upfront about my intentions to seek funding were paramount to how I was able to get paid to attend graduate school.

November

  1. Perfect your Statement of Purpose: Have a professor or honest friend, sibling, or colleague review your statement of purpose and provide feedback. Once you have a basic statement of purpose you’re happy with, slightly tweak it and save different versions for each school you apply to. Make sure you read the instructions for each application to ensure you’re addressing each school’s prompt in full.

December

  1. Submit your application: Because a school’s application deadline will vary, it’s important to check early on so that you don’t miss it. Some schools have rolling deadlines. When I applied to graduate school the deadlines for those seeking funding and those planning to provide their own funding sources (either paying out of pocket or coming with a scholarship) were slightly different.

Best wishes as you contemplate the next steps on your journey.

Kate

Engineering

My First Project as a NASA Engineer: DReAM

Ever thought that engineers just sit at a desk and crunch numbers all day? Think again! I’m here to share the deets on my first project I managed as a full-time engineer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. First, I have to mention that any good project has to start with a really cool acronym, thus the birth of the DReAM Team. DReAM is an acronym I made up and stands for Domestic REturn Aircraft Modification.

One of two primary missions that NASA Johnson Space Center’s Gulfstream aircraft fly is the direct return of astronauts back to Houston when they land from the International Space Station. Once the Space Shuttle was retired in 2011, NASA began flying its astronauts to the ISS exclusively on the Russian Soyuz. The Soyuz returns to Earth over the steppes of Kazakhstan and as you can imagine, a commercial flight back home isn’t exactly the most practical, especially after having become accustomed to a lack of gravity while in space. Additionally, the sooner that medical testing can be accomplished on astronauts after their return, the more scientific data that can be collected about the implications of human spaceflight on the human body. Because the Soyuz only carries three astronauts and at least one is always a Russian, the maximum number of astronauts that ever need a lift back to Houston from Kazakhstan is two.

As the Commercial Crew Program (CCP) spools up, NASA’s commercial providers SpaceX and Boeing will initially be launching four astronauts at a time in their Crew Dragon and Starliner spacecraft. Although these spacecraft will drop astronauts much closer to home, the Gulfstream aircraft will still be tasked to pick them up.

My first project upon beginning my full-time job at NASA back in 2018 was to outfit these aircraft with the capability to support the return of up to four astronauts back to Houston for the Commercial Crew Program. This included reconfiguring the cabin of the aircraft to optimize space for both the astronauts and essential personnel like their flight doctors. I used existing passenger seating to create the base for mattresses that are installed so they have a place to lay down, mounted medical oxygen bottles under each bed, ensured access to medical-grade outlets for special equipment, selected the color of new carpeting to be installed, and installed curtains for privacy around each bed. Yes, I somewhat jokingly, yet also seriously now consider myself an amateur aircraft interior designer. If you can believe it, I found space for four beds and six additional passengers plus two pilots, a Flight Science Officer and a maintainer on our GV. Whew, that was tricky! This configuration flew for the first time to return the Crew-1 astronauts to Houston after splashdown off the coast of Florida early May 2nd.

The project was incredibly rewarding for several reasons. Not only was this project incredibly hands-on (which I LOVE) but I also had the chance to work with many different offices at Johnson Space Center to ensure that I was meeting everyone’s requirements; the CCP, the flight docs, the astronaut office, etc. Furthermore, although I definitely didn’t complete the project solo, it was a unique project in that I didn’t have a dedicated team working on it like we often do for payload integration projects where often all hands are on deck. In this case I was able to fully participate in the entire project lifecycle which I think is so important for the professional development of an engineer. I was in charge of requirements definition, design, integration and project management along the way and finally I’ll get to see it installed and more than likely even come along as a Flight Science Officer as we fly the design on a future direct return mission!