A lot of little kids dream of being an astronaut when they grow up, but what does it really mean to spend your summer working for NASA. Two-time NASA intern (and co-host of Get This Girl a Job), Katie Melbourne shares her experience doing research at NASA Goddard and how she sees astronomy research fitting into her dream of a career in science policy.
Name: Katie Melbourne
Job Title: Astrophysics Research Intern at NASA Goddard
Location: Greenbelt, Maryland
College: Yale University
What are you doing this summer?
I am working on extending and improving previous analysis completed for Measurements of the Ultraviolet Spectral Characteristics of Low-mass Exoplanetary Systems (MUSCLES) collaboration. Our goal is to identify the relationship between optical and ultraviolet spectra of the smallest, dimmest, and most active types of stars, called M Dwarfs, to help support photochemical analysis of their atmospheres. The end goal is determining if these types of stellar systems harbor potentially habitable exoplanets.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I want to work in Washington, DC to advocate for science as a government affairs agent or space policy strategist.
How did you get your internship?
I found this internship through the NASA internship website and reached out to the mentors listed on the job posting for an informational interview in November. I applied in late December, and was offered the position mid-February.
What do you wish you had known during your internship search?
NASA releases their offers of acceptance on a rolling basis, so it is important to apply early to the opportunities that interest you. I was also considering another incredible job in a completely different field, and I was so convinced NASA would not work out that I almost committed myself to the other opportunity before hearing back from them. Moral of the story: believe in yourself, and ask for more time to decide if truly necessary before getting yourself in a sticky situation.
What does a day in the life look like?
I wake up at 5:15am and run over to the NASA campus, where I do my daily run before lifting in the campus gym. I go back to my AirBnB to shower, get dressed, and eat breakfast before driving back over to the astrophysics building. There, I code all day and write up my results (getting a head start on my thesis!). I always eat lunch with a group of other interns, and usually there is an interesting event or science colloquium in the afternoon to attend if I have time. I then go home, make dinner, and end my day with a trip into DC to see friends, make progress on my reading list, or just watch some Netflix!
How has this job changed what you see yourself doing in the future?
Because of my experience, I now know I like astronomy research enough to pursue a PhD in this field eventually. Though I don’t know if I will go right after graduating college, I know that it is something that I would enjoy, and that would keep many doors open to me as I make my way into a science policy career!