Week 9: Becoming the Expert

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Friday, August 2, 2013


Darren McKinnon

This week was all about finishing up the poster for my presentation. My mentor has been in Canada, and so he was hard to reach. Fortunately the rest of the group, namely Tom and Mike, were able to help me along the way. By Tuesday I had finished the first draft of the poster. I sent it to everyone in the group, and things worked out just right so that I was able to get a response from everyone by Wednesday. I was then able to make some adjustments, print the poster, and sigh with relief.

Thursday was the day of the presentation, so I put on my fancy clothes, grabbed a tie, and set off for Goddard. I checked in and set up my poster with plenty of time to spare. I then had some time to just sit and relax. Once the actual judging of the posters began, things went really well. The judge was pleasant and didn’t ask any terribly hard questions. The really terrifying part came a bit later when it the poster session was open to all of the Goddard employees. A lot of people wandered through during this time, but one in particular made my palms sweat. Tom had just stopped by the poster, so I was chatting with him. Next thing I know, there stands Jennifer Wiseman, the senior project scientist for the Hubble Space Telescope.

Eta Carinae was the first light for Hubble. This means that the first time they actually went to use it in its full scientific glory, they pointed it at the system I’m studying. Dr. Wiseman had approached with her niece and nephew, and she began telling them about how much she loved Eta Carinae, including the story of Hubble’s first light. She then began asking me questions. With nervous laughter and only a little shaking, I managed to answer all of her questions. She smiled and thanked me before heading off for another poster. I mentioned to Tom how terrifying it was. He laughed and said not to worry. He mentioned that he had felt that way too at first, but then there came a point where he realized that he had studied Eta Carinae so long that he was the expert. “At that point,” he laughed,” you can say pretty much whatever you want.”

Sadly, this internship is coming to an end. I’m currently working on my final presentation. Since I won’t be coming to Goddard next week at all, today I have to turn in my key and ID. It’s a bit sad, but I had a blast while I was here. I cannot wait to continue my research with this group at home.

Darren McKinnon