AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy and the AAS Employment Committee have compiled dozens of interviews highlighting the diversity of career trajectories available to astronomers, planetary scientists, etc. The interviews share advice and lessons learned from individuals on those paths.
Below is our interview with Heather Enos, a Masters in Business Administration who is the Deputy Principal Investigator of the OSIRIS-REx (Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Regolith Explorer) mission.
For access to all our Career Profile Project interviews, please visit http://aas.org/jobs/career-profiles. New Career Profiles are posted approximately every month.
What field do you currently work in?
Planetary Science – Exploration; Mission Design and Implementation.
What is the job title for your current position?
OSIRIS-REx Deputy Principal Investigator
What is the name of your company/organization/institution?
University of Arizona
What city, state, and country do you live in? Work in?
What is the highest degree in astronomy/physics you have received?
I do not have a degree in either. My formal education degree is a Masters of Business Administration.
I am self-taught in Science and Engineering through 2 decades of hands on experience.
What was your last academic position in astronomy/physics?
I do not hold an academic position. I am an Appointed Professional – Research.
What were the most important factors that led you to leave astronomy and/or academia?
My passion for understanding where we came from and where we are going has been a driving force in my decision to be involved in Planetary Science and mission implementation.
I am intrigued by the extreme environments and challenges planetary exploration presents. The challenge of finding design and mission implementation solutions that will accommodate such extreme circumstances/challenges excites me.
If you have made a career change, what was your age at the time?
I started my career in Research Administration that was targeted more towards biological sciences; Biotechnology and Neurobiology. I changed to Planetary Science - Mission Design and Development when I was 30 years old.
What, if any, additional training did you complete in order to meet the qualifications?
None – Other than a lot of hands on training. I have spent a lot of time in the laboratory running tests with my teammates. Testing has included qualification testing, verification testing and often science analog testing.
What have been particularly valuable skills for your current job that you gained through completing your degree?
The primary skills that are critical to my success are: Organization, Communication, and Critical Thinking.
Describe a typical day at work.
I spend a significant amount of my time meeting with different elements of the team. One of my primary responsibilities is to ensure all elements of the team are working to the same assumptions. I play an integral role in the strategic planning of the overall mission objectives and implementation. It is important that I maintain close communication with all of our partners and team members to ensure the tactical implementation processes, risk management, requirements and resource management are aligned with our strategic plans. Although we have defined a strategic plan and OSIRIS-REx philosophy, it is important to continuous realign plans and implementation to ensure mission success.
Do you still interact with people who work (directly) in astronomy and/or are you still involved in astronomy in some way?
How many hours do you work in a week?
On average 55-60
What is your level of satisfaction with your current job?
Most of the time I am very satisfied. However, there are times when burnout sets in and satisfaction decreases. As one of the major leaders in the mission, it is important for me to pay attention to this. It is important that I recognize if this is occurring in others. It is much easier to recognize it in others and adjust workloads to provide relief than it is to do for yourself.
What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job? Least enjoyable?
The most enjoyable aspect is the people. I feel so incredibly lucky to be surrounded by some of the brightest and most passionate people in the industry.
The least enjoyable is the “politics” that often creep into daily activities. Much of this comes from the integration of cultures from across academia, industry, and government.
What do you like most about your working environment?
I like the fast pace cutting edge environment.
What opportunities does your job provide to be creative and/or to take initiative?
I have been given a lot of opportunity to be creative and take initiative. Over the 20 years I have been in Planetary Science – Mission Design and implementation, I have been on an upward track of taking on higher level tasks and responsibilities.
How satisfied are you with your work-life balance in your current job?
This is an area I need to work on. Missions like OSIRIS-REx are very demanding and have a tendency to take over your life.
How family-friendly is your current position?
I share my experience and excitement with my family.
However, they have certainly sacrificed a lot over the years with me putting in so many stressful hours to ensure mission success. Over the 2 decades and four missions, there were times when my children asked me to “stop talking about work at the dinner table”. They wanted to talk to me as a mom not as a Project Manager – they are now young adults.
What advice do you have for achieving work-life balance (including having a family)?
This will require some thought.
One story I will share that runs through my mind often is the following:
I was working on the Mars Phoenix Mission as the TEGA Instrument Manager. We had an incredibly complicated instrument that created many challenges. The team was in constant recovery mode for nearly 2 years prior to getting our instrument delivered to the Spacecraft. It was a Sunday afternoon, me and the lead Systems Engineer had come into the lab to run some qualification tests on the flight model – we were recovering from a failure and verifying our fix. We were really racing against the clock. I had been working so many hours and not at home much so I asked my daughter, 13 at the time, if she wanted to come to the lab with me to see how we tested the hardware. She agreed to come along. During the testing, I was running a sequence to condition one of the heaters. The ramp rate was not as gentle as desired and went faster than planned. I immediately terminated the sequence but my heart was racing and the systems engineering was in a panic – everything was ok but the adrenal and stress was at its peak. We were both exhausted. I made the decision to terminate any additional testing for the day – risk of error was too high. On the ride home with my daughter, I was crying and upset that I could have destroyed the flight model that we had just spent so much time and effort repairing. She said “Mom you are human – people make mistakes”. My response was “I don’t have time to be human”. As I said it, I thought to myself, what am I doing. This memory remains at the forefront of my mind.
What do you do for fun (e.g., hobbies, pastimes, etc.)?
I enjoy cooking. The kitchen is another “lab” for experimentation that allows a creative outlet with no significant pressures.
Can we include your email address for people who may want to contact you directly about your specific career route?