Engineering

What’s NASA’s Astronaut Application Like?

That’s one small step towards my childhood dream. In 2016 a record-setting 18,300+ people applied to be an astronaut. NASA chose 12. How do you like those .066% odds? This year, even with the additional requirement of a Master’s degree, NASA still received over 12,000 applications. One of them was mine. I think this may just be the most competitive job in the universe! Since the application changed a little bit this year, I thought I’d share with you what the application looked like.

Part 1: Build Resume in USAJOBS

This is probably one of the most time consuming parts of the application and can be quite frustrating. Although USAJOBS has an option to import your resume, for certain postings it requires you to use the USAJOBS Resume Builder. This is one of those positions. You will be required to manually enter each of your professional experiences individually and select whether you’d like to allow them to reach out to your supervisor. I would suggest that you only say yes if you are sure they’ll remember you and/or you’ve let them know you put them down. I felt like this process made it a bit difficult to set yourself apart from the crowd, but then again, I’m sure there are others who felt that way as well.

Part 2: Upload Required Transcripts

It’s a good idea to keep electronic copies of your college transcripts on hand because you never know when you’ll need them (ex. job applications, professional certifications like the P.E., etc). In addition to your USAJOBS resume, you will also have to upload and submit transcripts for all degrees you want credit for. If you do not upload these transcripts or other required documents as listed in the job posting, you will likely be disqualified right off the bat. You are not required to upload official transcripts but keep in mind that if selected, you will be required to provide official transcripts.

Part 3: Qualifying Questions

Just when you think you’ve completed the application and say to yourself “Wow, that was surprisingly simple” you submit and are routed to the agency specific section. Don’t worry, this isn’t difficult either. You’ll be asked questions that help further determine if you meet the basic requirements of the job listing and whether you understand the risks of the job, etc.

Part 4: Assessment

The assessment is something new this year. Within about 30 minutes of submitting the application, you will receive a link to the assessment which needs to be completed within 48 hours of the application closing. The assessment contains three parts and it is recommended to take the entire thing in one sitting but you can save it and come back if you’d like. The assessment is management by OPM (Office of Personnel Management), the federal agency responsible for managing the government’s civilian workforce.

Assessment #1: Work Experience Assessment. This one is not timed and about 25 multiple choice questions. The questions ask things like “When asked, your supervisor would explain your work style as” and then gives you a number of choices.

Assessment #2: OPM Essay Test. You will be given 25 minutes to write an essay which the system says will be graded by computer. The prompt I was given related to writing about the pros and cons to a particular subject. Astronauts are often the face of NASA and human spaceflight so I presume this is supposed to assess whether you are able to communicate effectively.

Assessment #3: Work Styles Assessment. This one felt like it went on and on…and on. It is non-timed and forces you to select one of two given options related to what describes you better in a work situation. Sometimes this is incredibly difficult as I often felt like neither choice applied to me and they both sounded like negative attributes to have! The ones I remember most were related to how you react to being stressed at work or how you feel when others at work are stressed out.

A helpful note is that once you have submitted your application, you are able to re-enter the system and make changes up until the application closes. Start your application early because it will likely take you longer to complete than you expect.

The selection process takes the agency approximately one year to complete and NASA plans to announce its next astronaut class sometime during early Summer 2021. I’ve heard a good sign that you may have made it into the running for the final interview round is if you hear that your references have been contacted.

For astronaut selection criteria and tips, click here to read my previous blog post. This post outlines the minimum requirements for NASA astronaut selection.

Godspeed friends,

Kate

Education, Engineering

Astronaut Selection Criteria & Tips

UPDATE 2 MARCH 2020: This article was written prior to the announcement of NASA’s updated educational requirements for Astronaut Candidates. A Master’s degree with two years of relevant work experience is now a requirement. For a full explanation of the updated requirements, please see the job listing on USAJobs.

If there’s one place you’re almost certain to encounter an astronaut it’s NASA’ s Johnson Space Center. JSC is home to the astronaut corps and the people that select this elite group of men and women.

Throughout my time at NASA, both as a co-op during my college years and now as a full-time employee, I’ve had the opportunity to work and speak with current and former astronauts and even the very woman in charge of the astronaut selection process. Many people are surprised to find that the basic requirements to apply are fairly straightforward.

All astronauts can be lumped into two categories: pilot or non-pilot. The following are a list of minimum requirements that must be met before applying. Click here for more information.

  1. A Bachelor’s degree from an accredited university in engineering, biological science, physical science, computer science, or mathematics. Degrees in technology, psychology, nursing, aviation, social sciences, exercise physiology are considered non-qualifying.
  2. At least 3 years of relevant, progressively responsible professional experience OR at least 1,000 hours pilot-in-command time in a high performance jet aircraft (these are generally your military pilots who often happen to be graduates of a military test pilot school). Advanced degrees are desirable (and almost certainly increase your changes of being selected) and can be substituted for years of experience (Master’s degree=1 year of experience, Ph.D.=3 years of experience).
  3. Ability to pass NASA’s long-duration astronaut physical which is very comprehensive and from what I’m told, often the largest hurdle to clear once a person has made it to the interview portion of the application process.

Interestingly, military helicopter pilots are considered non-pilot astronauts. Take Shane Kimbrough, Sunita (Suni) Williams, and Anne McClain as examples. Civilian applicants must apply during an open application period through USAJOBS (www.usajobs.gov) and active duty military members must submit applications both through this site and to their respective military service.

It may not come as a surprise that NASA looks for many of the same traits in its astronaut candidates that any employer values when interviewing candidates for a position. Leadership, teamwork, and good communication skills are all important to the selection committee. Current astronauts themselves sit on the selection board to provide insight into whether they believe an applicant is the right fit for the job. After all, they want to be sure to select people they’d have to work with (and tolerate!) for extended periods of 6 months to a year, or even more as we look towards Mars.

So what’s the secret?

Every astronaut I’ve ever spoken to for tips about being selected (namely Shane Kimbrough and Karen Nyberg) has had almost the same answer. Choose a career and hobbies that you love. Every astronaut I’ve come across will tell you that they are extremely lucky to have been selected. NASA is not seeking a group of people looking to check boxes off a list of requirements, but rather those who are passionate about what they do. Do not get an engineering degree, join the military, or get a pilot’s license solely for the purpose of boosting your resume for the astronaut program. This is likely to lead to a lifetime of unhappiness. I am of the opinion that passion is what makes you the best at what you do. This is why the list of requirements seems so simple and attainable-there is no ideal person for this job. NASA wants a passionate and diverse group in order to build the best team for its missions. NASA currently has 38 active astronauts. The chances of being selected, especially on a first attempt, are not impossible but the chances are not immediately stacked in your favor. NASA wants people who, although obviously disappointed, are so passionate about what they do they would be happy in the careers they’re currently in whether they were to be selected or not. In fact, people often apply many times before they are selected. Clayton Anderson was rejected 14 times before finally being selected in 1998.

Applications for the Astronaut Candidate Program typically open about every 4 years these days. It is reasonable to assume the next call for applications will occur sometime around 2021. I’m definitely applying next time they open up, will you?!

Ad Astra,

Kate

References:

  1. https://astronauts.nasa.gov/content/broch00.htm
  2. https://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/postsecondary/features/F_Astronaut_Requirements.html
  3. https://www.businessinsider.com/nasa-astronaut-application-process-2016-2#advice-for-aspiring-astronauts-7
Engineering

#ILookLikeanEngineer

A friend recently sent me an article about a former NASA intern who shut down a guy on dating app Hinge after he insulted her intelligence. In response to her prompt that the dorkiest thing about her was that she worked at NASA, he followed with “So what are you, the receptionist? Jk, you look reasonably smart.” She proceeded to serve him some wisdom:

Initially this infuriated me because this sort of response is something that is not foreign to me. As a female navigating a field dominated by men, I’ve encountered my fair share of stereotypes and biases. On my first internship during my undergraduate studies, I remember the receptionist telling me I was too bubbly to be an engineer. Although I’m sure it wasn’t her intention to insult me and I certainly didn’t take particular offense to the comment, it really made me think about what the all male staff in the office thought about my abilities as an engineer.

In my final year of undergrad, I interviewed several engineering students for a research paper focused retention of engineering students, particularly women. One of my close friends revealed to me for the first time that on several of her internships she often dressed in baggy, masculine clothing so as not to stand out. When she told me this, my heart broke a little bit. For all the times that I’d felt out of place in the classroom because I was too girly, or too loud, too bubbly, I suddenly recognized that I wasn’t the only one. Sadly, however, this isn’t a product of engineering, or of being a woman, it is a product of our society deciding for us what we ought to look like, sound like, who we should be if we choose a particular field of work. Our career and our job title are just that-titles. They do not define who we are, but what we do for 40 hours every week. The hashtag #ILookLikeanEngineer is a reminder that we can dress, talk, look, and sound how we want and we all deserve to be respected in the fields in which we work. We all look like engineers.