Week 9: Wrapping Things Up

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Monday, August 2, 2021


Gina Pantano

Hello everyone! We officially have one week left until the SPS 2021 Summer Internship Program comes to a close. The past week I have been putting together my PowerPoint slides for my final presentation, working on my project, and trying to make last-minute connections. I am excited to share my research with the internship cohort and colleagues from the EXCLAIM mission. I would lie if I said I was not extremely nervous, but I appreciate the SPS coordinators for keeping us on a schedule to make sure we are well prepared for the event. 

Weekly Events

This week was relatively light with meetings, and I spent the majority of my time working on my project and putting together my presentation slides. On Monday, I attended a new virtual event series called the Road to NASA that has guest speakers share their unique career paths and how they ended up working for the Goddard Space Flight Center. We first heard from Dr. Roopesh Ojha, a Program Scientist at NASA Headquarters, who shared his journey of first becoming a senior fellow at the GSFC and then a full-time Astrophysicist until December of last year. I really enjoyed learning about what he considered “successes” and “failures” within his career, and how he managed to work through his own obstacles. Later on, we had our biweekly collaboration meeting where team members shared project updates. On Tuesday, I attended our weekly MKID meeting and continued working on my project. On Wednesday, I met with my scholarship advisors to work on my NSF GRFP application, submitted my abstract for my NASA presentation, and had my weekly high-fidelity simulation meeting with Trevor. The rest of the day I worked on my presentation slides and caught up on my blog posts. On Thursday, we had our weekly morning tag-up meeting  for the Observational Cosmology Lab. Later on, the intern cohort got to meet Dr. Matt Wright, chair of the physics department at Adelphi University, who spoke about Shark Labs which was created to inspire young physics entrepreneurs. I thought his talk was incredibly interesting with a very innovative idea! He also talked about his research in atomic physics. Since Friday was Quiet Friday, I just worked on my presentation and project while getting caught up on some personal chores. 

Overall Experience and Feelings

This week I want to highlight what I wish I did differently with my internship and some key takeaways, and next week I want to talk about my "successes" and favorite moments working at NASA. 

What I Would Change

  • I wish I had asked more questions. At the beginning of my internship, I was intimidated to ask questions thinking in my head, “I should know this” or “If I ask this, they may think negatively of me”, which was rarely the case! I found these thoughts created limiting beliefs about myself which made it difficult to make progress on my project. If I just asked about a certain part of my project in the beginning, I could have saved myself time in the long run. Also, asking questions shows initiative and that you're engaged with the topic. 

  • I wish I took advantage of NASA’s free online SATERN courses. Although I attended a lot of presentations and online courses through the O'Reilly Learning Platform, I did not take advantage of the other free online SATERN courses, which some give you a certificate of completion. This was mainly due to time constraints with other events and my project. However, I know with better time management I could have made it happen.

  • I wish I reached out to more people at NASA and focused on building relationships. I think the most important part of any internship is building strong relationships that can help with your future career endeavors. Although I believe I built a lot of strong connections, this is an area we can always improve upon. I wish I reached out to more people outside of the Astrophysics Science Division (Code 660) to learn more about other career avenues and research going on at NASA. 

  • I wish I was more upfront with my mentor. I found towards the end of my internship I was more successful because I was more upfront with my mentor when I felt lost/confused in regards to my project. I wish at the beginning I was more honest with my coding experience and how challenging the project seemed for me. However, I think because my project was challenging I was able to push myself more and learn new skills. I just wish I contributed more to the EXCLAIM team than I did!

  • I wish I kept a more detailed record of everything I learned. One of my biggest regrets! Ten weeks may seem like a short period of time, but I forget the skills I learned during my first couple of weeks. Make sure to reflect at the end of every week, use your blogs if necessary, to track the new skills or interesting bits of information you learned. You will need this information for personal statements, interviews, resumes, and/or CVs. I did start doing this until about halfway through my internship.

Key Takeaways

  • Do not be afraid to ask questions!

  • Get yourself on a consistent schedule and set up a designated workspace early on.

  • Network with at least one new person every week.

  • Be crystal clear about your expectations and needs with your mentor.

  • If you cannot figure out a problem after three attempts, ask your mentor for help.

  • Gain as much knowledge about the field as possible by attending as many meetings and lectures as you can.

  • Keep a detailed record of every new bit of information or skill you learned for your resume/CV.

  • Make sure you have an idea of career goals going into your internship as a guideline and something to ask about when networking.

  • Gather glowing references if possible.

Happy Researching!

Gina Pantano (she/her/hers)