Dr. Dawn Myers

Goddard Space Flight Center
  smiling woman with magenta hair

I am originally from Baltimore, MD. I currently work at NASA/ Goddard Space Flight Center. I support SOT (Solar Optical Telescope) science operations. SOT is an instrument onboard the Hinode mission, which is a joint mission between NASA and the Japanese Space Agency, JAXA. I perform engineering analysis and monitor the health and safety of the instrument. I also supported the integration, testing, launch and early orbit operations for SDO (Solar Dynamics Observatory). In addition, I continue to monitor instrument health and safety for AIA (Atmospheric Imaging Assembly), an instrument on board SDO.

I grew up in the city, where I went to private school for 12 years. I was a pretty hyper kid, always jumping around, getting into trouble. I was always reasonably good at math and science. I grew up with mostly boys so felt like I was in competition pretty frequently. I went to an all girls high school that actually discouraged us from going into science careers, which is about the time I decided to go into science (not sure that that is complete coincidence).

Going to the beach as a child. I remember how much I used to love sitting out there, baking in the Sun and wondering how it worked. I don't remember how old I was, but this happened every summer for almost all of my childhood years.

While in high school, I was recommended for a Women in Science Forum to be held at the Space Telescope Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University. The first day they gave a three hour lecture about the Hubble telescope and what had gone wrong with the mirrors. It was the first time in my life that I had ever sat on the edge of my seat for that long. My mind always wandered in school or I fell asleep, but not this time. It was amazing!

I kind of fell into being a solar physicist. I got an internship here at Goddard my last year of college. I worked on SOHO (Solar & Heliospheric Observatory). I was educated at University of Maryland at College Park, where I received my BS in Astronomy. My advisor was incredible and I think she is part of the reason that I decided to stay in Solar Physics. The other reason was that it intrigued me; it was so obvious that it directly affected our everyday lives, yet I did not know enough about it. I wanted to answer and solve all the questions. My advisor also encouraged me quite a bit.

Earlier in my career, I worked on the Transition Region and Coronal Explorer (TRACE) satellite mission. As I said above (first paragraph), I currently work with the Hinode mission. I am also a member of the Educational & Public Outreach (EPO) team for SDO. I help coordinate our educational activities at large scale public events.

A typical day for me varies based on whether I am on “shift” for Hinode or not. Being on shift means that I am responsible for preparing the science plan for the SOT instrument. This involves me checking on the health and safety of the instrument, going through the latest data, looking through our data requests and then making the plan. On days when I am not on shift, I run an engineering analysis for the instrument and help out with any other requests that may come in. For the EPO part of my work, I handle a great deal of logistics. I help plan some large scale and small scale public events, meaning I help put together hands on science activities and help sort out all that goes into what needs to be done for those events. I also attend lots of meetings about future collaborations and upcoming events. It is a busy day, but I love it.

There are always new things to try to understand. Every time a piece of the puzzle is explained, a new question arises. Also it is incredible to study the Sun all day and then be able to walk outside at any point and see it there and know what is going on. It is a truly amazing feeling. For my job, I use a lot of computer languages. However for some of the health monitoring of the instrument, I have used C programming, javascript, perl and of course, html. I have two computers in my office that I mainly use. One is good for graphics for the EPO aspect of my job and the other is used for data analysis. I also have lots of manuals that explain various computer languages as well as lots of books about Solar Physics. (You can never know enough).

The fact that the Sun is always changing is my favorite part. I have always had a short attention span, so I can't stand monotony, but with science the rules always change and it is never boring. I get my greatest satisfaction from two things: one is doing the EPO, when I am explaining something to someone who doesn't have a science background and I see their eyes light up with wonder and excitement - that thrills me. I also get satisfaction when I am doing my research and I finally understand something. When things start to fall into place, it may not be groundbreaking to the science world, but it has changed my understanding and I did it. That is the most incredible feeling.

The only thing that is difficult about my job is that it is sometimes hard to tear myself away from my work. I am so involved that I sometimes lose track of time. I went to college and got a BS in Astronomy. After that I decided to take sometime off, to relax and decide my next steps. College was a difficult process, but a good one and an amazing growing experience. Next, I took some graduate level Physics Courses to help me decide if I wanted to go on in my education and try to obtain a Masters Degree. I knew that regardless of whether I went on in school or not, I love what I do and will always be involved in science. Update: I decided I would continue school. I finished my Masters degree in Applied and Engineering Physics in May of 2005.

One of the biggest obstacles to getting to where I am was the money to go to college. I searched for grants and then applied for student loans. I also worked full time during college in order to support myself. This created a new problem, though. I was working so much that it was difficult for me to find time to study, let alone time to have fun. I eventually got a part-time job and managed my time a bit better. My internship at NASA was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. Being in school for a few years, I began to question what I was doing and whether or not I really wanted it. The internship let me work with real current data and it reaffirmed my love of science. It was also encouraging. While in college, no one really encouraged me, but my intern advisor did, and that made a huge difference.

I thought it would be lonely and awkward being a woman in solar physics, but there are quite a few women around these days and I am pretty lucky. Though the people I work with are mostly men, there are a few women who work on SOHO and who are quite wonderful. They are supportive and friendly. Besides my interest in solar physics, I have been a dancer my entire life. It was my first choice as a career, but I had an injury. I still perform now and in fact I teach part-time. I enjoy most art forms...singing, acting, painting. It is all great. I also like Lacrosse. If you have an interest in becoming a scientist I offer these words of advice to you: Don't ever let anyone tell you that you can't do something, not even yourself. You can be your own worst critic, so try to go easy on yourself. One of the worst things that you can do is to not enjoy being young. And finally don't let yourself get all anxious and upset if you aren't sure what you want to do with your life. You will figure it out in time.
 

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