Class of 2016
Astrophysics Emphasis and Math minor
Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) associate science operations analyst
What do you do for your job?
I work for the STScI which runs the science operations for the Hubble Space Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope, which is set to launch in 2021. My team helps scientists who propose to observe set up technically feasible observing programs. We have to make sure the telescope can point at the right objects for the right amount of time so the researchers get the data they need. I have also started to work a little bit with the database that underlies all of the software, it’s cool to see the bedrock of what makes the telescope run and learn more about how it works.
What do you like about your job?
I am granted quite a lot of autonomy, which I really appreciate. Right after I was trained, I was trusted with Hubble observing programs. I that level of trust. We have a great support structure, so there is always somebody to ask a question to. There is so much I don’t know but it’s very easy to learn from all the people there.
What is your favorite memory from your time in the physics department?
Baca with modern physics. Shane and Barbara taught my modern physics course, and for me modern is where all the cool physics is. That’s when I first had physics dreams. That was the turning point when I knew I wanted to be a physics major.
What do you mean by physics dreams?
It’s kind of fuzzy to remember them but I think Shane and Barbara were the leaders of our physics team. We were going around and solving physics problems in various spots around the universe. And we were like, saving the universe! It was very very strange. There must have been equations written all over my dreams as well, but I can’t remember them. It’s the immersion that everyone talks about with the block plan. That’s what your brain does all day so it becomes part of your dreams.
What was your dream job when you were a student?
Pretty close to what I’m doing now. I’ve sort of come to realize how much I love this job since being here. STScI does a great job of letting people work in the field of astronomy without a PhD. Having a PhD. would be awesome, I just decided I didn’t want to commit to doing that, but I’m still able to support astronomy by helping get observing programs to actually fly, which is very rewarding. I can read all about cool Hubble observations and sometimes those Hubble observations are something I enabled to occur.
How have you found a way to incorporate your passions into your life?
One thing I have taken up recently is mountain biking. I’m kicking myself I never tried in Colorado where there are so many amazing trails and I only started after I moved to Maryland. I got some bike tools and have been fixing up bikes, and it fulfills my desire for hands-on work. My job is strictly software, there is no hardware, so the miniature bike workshop in my basement satisfies my craving for taking things apart and putting them back together. I think it’s really great to have passions outside of what you make a living at. Some people dive headlong into a career and are down to work 50-60-hour weeks, But I don’t really like doing that. I like working a 40-hour week and coming home and making something fun for dinner or going for a bike ride or sitting on the porch with a friend.
If you want to learn more about what Michael does, you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org