Week 6: Did you know what a Post-Doc was?

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Monday, July 18, 2016


Dahlia Baker

This past week has been a continued grind towards the end goal of my project: to make and test a sample of our infrared absorbing material. However, between working on my research and commuting to and from DC every day, SPS made sure that us interns had the chance to get out and see some of the wonderful things in this area.

This past Thursday, all of the SPS executives and the internship mentors met at the College Park Aviation museum for barbeque, wonderful conversations, nobel laureates (or just one), and model airplanes! After dinner, we had a personal tour of the museum, where we learned about the Wright Brothers and other big names from the beginning of aviation history. Touring a museum after hours is always a treat, especially when you can climb all over the model airplanes.

Maria and Sam at the College Park Aviation Museum

Over the weekend, we had the chance to do my favorite thing about our internship - outreach! There was an event at the National Academy of Sciences called Meet a Nobel Laureate where John Mather showed off some of the science happening at NASA Goddard, and us interns taught kids about gravity with some spandex and marbles! This was by far my favorite activity so far. There were so many curious children, most of whom were still too young to have learned anything about space. I got to watch their faces light up as they realized that the marbles acted just like our planets, and some kids wanted to get their parents to make the same spandex contraption at home so they could keep playing. I always love to see kids get interested in these activities, even if they don’t understand the science completely. Curiosity is what kicks off most people’s journey into STEM, and nurturing it is what can create tomorrow’s leading scientists.

Modeling a Binary Star System

At NASA, there are always talks and presentations and panels going on that the interns can attend. I picked one specific panel made up of post-docs who wanted to share their experience with interns so that we could have a better understanding of which directions our future may lead us in. I learned a lot from this panel, especially because I didn’t know what a post-doc position was! I didn’t understand that if I go into academia, that my time after graduate school would be spent finding funding, working on projects at different places for a few years at a time until I need to pick a new one. The benefit of a post-doctoral position is the freedom to continue research and publish papers and collaborate to do real science in whatever field you specialize in. The downside is the required flexibility, since you can’t say for sure where you might be or what you might be doing in the next five years. The alternative to being a post-doc and chasing an academic position is to enter the industry, where you won’t be doing much real science, and the economic benefit of your work is highly considered. As I’m going into my junior year, I’m going to have to think a lot about which path I want to take. I know that I want to continue my education into graduate school, and most likely earn a Ph. D, but I’m open to whatever opportunity may present itself in the years to come.

Carl Sagan, the great scientist and philosopher, once said that “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” It’s this quote that perfectly reflects how I feel about pursuing research, the belief that there is so much out there to discover is why I went into science in the first place. And it’s this philosophy that keeps driving me towards the unknown, whether it’s through research or travels or just my own personal growth. I hope that even if I do go into industry in the future, it’s to do something that continues humanity’s push towards knowing what’s currently past our knowledge.

SPS Interns with Brad and Airplanes!






Dahlia Baker