Space, Spectacular Scientists

Women In Space: Present

If you’ve read my last post, you’ll know why space is so awesome, and the role that women have played in the growth of the industry. In this post, we are staying in the present, and hearing what some inspiring women have to say about the industry! This time, the wonders of Instagram, allowed me to interview the Kat Ross and Paige Godfrey, of @astro.katross and @thespacepaige respectively! Kat is an astrophysicist using radio telescopes in the Australian Outback to hunt Black Holes, and Paige is a systems engineer and astronomer at Lockheed Martin!

J: What is your day to day job, and what would you say the best thing about it is?

Paige:  I am a Systems Engineer at Lockheed Martin Rotary and Mission Systems. The best thing about my job is that it is a melting pot of STEM fields! I can do mathematical theory, physics problem solving, and coding all in a day’s work. 

Kat: My day to day involves a lot of programming and data analysis. Currently im working on developing some statistics to determine if the changes I see in my baby black holes are because the black holes themselves have changed or if it’s just inside the noise of the telescope. The best thing about it is problem solving! I get to sit and think of creative solutions and implement them! Sometimes successfully sometimes not but it’s all a part of the journey

J: What made you choose engineering over pure science?

P: I fell into engineering the hard way. Academia and I weren’t a great fit for each other, and so when I left grad school I had no idea what I was going to do. It took about two years and a lot of soul searching before I realized what I was looking for!

J: What is the best thing that your job or university course has led you to do?

P: View the world in a different way. Physics constantly pushes me to question our place in the universe. It has also introduced me to a world of like-minded people that I wouldn’t have otherwise met.

K: I studied a unit about teaching and learning physics. It was one of my favourite units where I got to learn how students process and retain physics in class. Thankfully my professor liked my work and ended up hiring me to work for her research group for 1.5 years and it was here that I decided to pause going after my PhD and instead learn how females learn physics so I can use it to encourage more women to pursue physics

J: What is your favourite non-sciencey thing to do?

P: I’m into craft beer, I’m a dancer, and I love to travel. 

J: That’s awesome! What’s your favourite country to visit?

P: Hmm I would say either Hawaii or Italy. Both of which I’ve gone back to for more! The Hawaiian islands are so alluring. Italy has my favorite food and a very comfortable culture to submerge yourself in.

K: My favourite non-sciencey thing to do is either read my book (although I read a lot of science fiction) or gardening. I love to paint pots for my plants inspired by galaxies and nebulae. It helps me relax and get a break from work and I love seeing my plants grow and thrive!

J: If you could make everyone in the world know one fact about your area of research, what would it be?

P: I studied brown dwarfs. I think the most important thing to say is that the mere existence of these objects challenged and revolutionized the way astronomers view solar systems and habitability, and were only discovered in the mid-90s!

K: My research depends on Radio Telescopes but every time we use electronic devices, a satellite or plane flies or with the development of 5G we make it harder and harder for astronomers to find ways to block out all the radio noise from technology in order to see the radio universe! Your phone is already thousands and thousands of times brighter than the brightest radio galaxies

J: Who were your inspirations growing up, and are they different today?

P: My inspirations were my teachers. I had many great teachers that I admired and strived to impress. Also my mom who is a badass full time working mom. 

K: When I was growing up I loved watching Star Trek! My favourite series was Voyager because Kathryn Janeway was a total badass! Also helped that she had the same name. Today I get inspiration for so many places, my supervisor Natasha Hurley-Walker is a huge inspiration and so is every woman in stem I meet. Every time we stand together and support and encourage each other, it becomes easier for us all.

J: How did you end up in your current job/research position?

P: Once I decided I wanted to be in aerospace engineering, I had to figure out how and where. I spoke to some mentors, networked, and did research on potential careers and organizations. 

K: I actually ended up in radio astronomy research because of my supervisor. She has done some incredible work on the GLEAM Survey and I thought it would be amazing to be a part of her team even though I knew nothing about the project! It’s turned out to be a great area and I love my work!

J: What led you to science communication?

P: I love to share what I do with interested people of all ages! It’s rewarding, and usually the most fun part!

K: I’ve always loved what I do and I want to share that with everyone! I also think science communication is such an important thing, making sure that people don’t just understand the importance of science and research but are actively engaged in the conversation. Mostly I also think it’s incredibly important to have female scientists in the spotlight to encourage the next generation

J: What is your top tip for aspiring scientists?

P: Find your mentor, find your support system. It will look different for everyone, but you don’t have to do this alone!

K:  Don’t be discouraged if you’re struggling or you fail at something, science is hard we all struggle and we all fail it’s a big part of it. But when you’re struggling, talk to people, seek advice and figure out how to improve. There’s no need to struggle alone

J: Who is your favourite female scientist from your field? Past or Present!

P: My thesis advisor, Dr. Emily Rice. She is just the most..real. She’s awesome at her job, research, and outreach-turned-small business. She’s a million things to a million people including being a mom. I watched her grow into this role during my time with her, and she nearly literally paved the path for me. 

K: That’s a really tough one! Astronomy has such a rich history of female contribution all throughout history that it’s hard to pinpoint one person! I’ll say Ruby Payne-Scott who was a radio astronomer around the 60’s who helped develop the field. She worked on building radio telescopes when we were still figuring out what radio astronomy was and she also discovered 3/5 types of Solar bursts! (Of course it helps that she was also an Aussie!)

J: What sci-comm account should everyone make sure to follow? 

P: So many! Startorialist, Cepheid Studio, Summer Ash, The Space Gal, Physics Girl

K: I recommend following @astrokirsten, she’s an Aboriginal woman, astrophysicist and science communicator (and all round boss). She is incredible at communicating Indigenous astronomy and soon to be starting her PhD! (J- You can check out her TED talk here)

Thank you so much guys! My key takeaways from these interviews has reinforced the fact that STEM jobs are all about problem solving, and the importance of having a strong support system, and looking to those around you for inspiration! 

You can find Paige on instagram, @thespacepaige, and Kat @astro.katross

Until next time… stay curious! And Never Trust An Atom!


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