Engineering Gals x Space Gals Seminar Overview
The other week, by complete chance, I stumbled upon an Instagram story that announced that Engineering Gals (an online community on Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, etc) was hosting an online seminar with some incredible women in the space industry. I immediately dropped what I was doing, and went on to Youtube to join in. I came just in time to watch the introduction of the featured guests:
Marianne is a Space Instrumentation Engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where she is currently is working on technology such as MOXIE, to test oxygen production on Mars, as well as HIGS, to look at signs of life on Europa or Enceladus (some of Saturn's moons). Her Instagram features some insight into her journey as a woman in aerospace! You can check out her portfolio here and Instagram here.
Naia is an Aerospace Engineering PhD student, a NASA Space Technology Graduate Research Fellow, a GEM Fellow at Georgia Tech, as well as a member of the High-Power Electric Propulsion Lab and a NASA Pathways intern in the Science and Space Technology Systems branch at Glenn Research Center. Naia has the ultimate goal of becoming a mission specialist astronaut to contribute to deep space exploration. Not to mention, Naia is an active Science Communicator, with a strong presence on her blog and Instagram, as well as on the Black Girls in STEM page! You can check out her website here, and Instagram here.
Katya is currently an Electrical Engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where she is working on simulation and support equipment for the Europa Clipper Project. This mission will explore Europa (Jupiter's icy moon) and see whether it could possibly host life. She is also a MESA volunteer, a Project Possom Suborbital Citizen Scientist Astronaut, and aerospace science communicator on her Instagram! Katya ended up becoming a full time NASA employee after interning at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory during her senior year of university! You can check out her website here and her Instagram here.
Kate is a NASA Aircraft Operations Division Mechanical/Aerospace Engineer at the Johnson Space Centre in Texas. There, she helps provide support and upgrade to a fleet of aircraft that complete missions such as flying science missions around the world, and also picking up astronauts when they return to Earth from the International Space Station. Kate even recently applied to become a NASA astronaut! You can read all about Kate on her blog, that also features some health & fitness content, where she seeks to inspire women in STEM. You can check out her website here, and her Instagram here.
After introductions were done, the seminar was split into three different sessions; academia, mental health, and advice for industry. Each of these ladies shared their own experiences and some guiding words, which was super cool, especially as they are all under the same aerospace engineering branch, but have quite different roles.
Below, I've made a note of the main ideas shared for each section. Even if you're not too interested in space, it's definitely worth a read. There were many inspirational words shared, and a lot of the advice is super helpful regardless of whether you end up in engineering or not.
How to obtain your first opportunity in space:
➣Just put your applications in, go to conferences, and meet employers. Making yourself known is super valuable (Katya)
➣Directly email people and show your interest, this could be for a job or a graduate programme (Kate)
➣Get experience through recreational activities or join clubs! Any experience is great to add to your resume (Naia)
"Making yourself known is super valuable"
Why research over industry?
➣You have to consider what your goals are, and since a lot of my colleagues at Glenn had PhDs, I figured I needed it to be competitive. It's important to consider that some places will consider you overqualified, so make sure you do your research before you decide to go down either path (Naia)
Marianne at NASA's Johnson Space Centre with the Endeavour. Source.
Recommendations for master's degrees:
➣You can get loans, scholarships, and research stipends as a PhD. If you're currently working, your job may be able to reimburse you. Remember to have a repayment plan too (Marianne)
➣Reaching out directly to professors doing research is a great way to get your foot in the door. Also, if you want to be funded, then make it clear that's what you want. An advisor actually vouched for me to get into Georgia Tech, and although the selection committee doesn't necessarily have to follow a professor's opinion, it gives you a slightly higher chance of getting in (Kate)
How to get involved in space as an international student?
➣Apply to postdocs, fellowships, and space grants. There's a lot out there if you search for it (Marianne)
Naia doing lab work at NASA Glenn. Source.
Ideas for high school students to get university funding and strengthen their resumes:
➣Get involved with STEM research, a lot of universities offer online certification. Being more educated certainly adds to your resume (Naia)
"Think about all the times you didn't succeed... you overcame that"
What helps you stay motivated?
➣Watching space videos, looking at past experiences, attending seminars, speaking to others. It's really just about finding what inspires you (Marianne)
How to deal with imposter syndrome:
➣Think about all the times that you didn't think you would succeed, where you felt exactly as you do now, and let that sink in. You overcame that (Katya)
➣Going to therapy has really helped. Reignite your passion for your subject. Building a support system is also super important, as imposter syndrome affects more people than you would think, on the regular (Marianne)
Katya in a Project Possum spacesuit. Source.
When have you experienced failure?
➣During my first interview at university where I was asked "can you get your hands dirty?", just because I was a girl, and I didn't end up getting the internship (Kate)
➣My first mistake on a printed circuit board (Katya)
➣When I failed my aerodynamics course, the first course that I ever failed, in junior year (Naia)
Advice for dealing with failure:
➣Remember that something better is coming your way. Use that failure as propellant and work towards your dreams (Kate)
➣When you make a mistake, you'll hear about all the other mistakes people have made at work, and learn from them. Everyone makes mistakes (Katya)
➣Utilise mental health resources, and try to practice dissociating personal worth from success (Naia)
"It's important to be mindful of your own bias, and try to get past it"
How to deal with gender bias within the engineering sector:
➣Find a support group, of either women or men. Remember that men are powerful mentors too! It's also important to be mindful of your own bias, and try to get past it (Marianne)
➣Find people that you're comfortable with, and will advocate for you. Especially when dealing with gender or racial bias, it's very helpful to have a (either senior or even co-worker) mentor who will step in and back you up. They can even inspire you to become an advocate (Naia)
➣Mentors are definitely important, and it is great when they truly believe in you, and advocate for you when you're not even in the room (Kate)
Kate on a zero gravity flight. Source.
Advice for Industry
Branding yourself online:
➣Keep a nice and clean social media image. Don't forget to share your awards and interviews - they're impressive for recruiters to see (Katya)
➣Be unique and make yourself memorable. For example, I've created some unique business cards to make sure that they leave an impression on people (Naia)
Ways to find research topics:
➣Fellowships and space grants are great ways to get funding for your research. NASA also has an early stage decadal survey, where they surveyed all the NASA projects and highlighted topics that will be important in the future. Just now, there is information that will be super useful for the Lunar Gateway and Martian missions (Marianne)
I hope you enjoyed reading about all of the advice from these incredible women, and definitely go check them out on their social media accounts! Feel free to also watch the seminar to hear all about what Marianne, Katya, Naia, and Kate said here.
Ladies, if you're reading this article, then I just wanted to say thank you so much for sharing your stories with us. It's so inspirational to learn more about what women are doing in the space sector, and to also see what you can achieve when you follow your passion. Keep on reaching new heights!
As well, the Engineering Gals community is a super great way to meet other likeminded women, so be sure to check out their Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube. If you're an engineer, then feel free to fill in their Google Form here to join the community, and your story will be featured on their feed!
What's the best piece of advice that you've been given?