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Meet: Karlin Roth, Ph.D.

photo of Dr. Roth

Aerospace Engineer
Ames Research Center

Who I am and what I do:
I work on research projects with the goal of increasing the number of aircraft that can fly safely in our airspace system. I am an aerospace engineer and have both managerial and technical responsibilities. As a manager, I direct a staff of nine engineers. As a technical expert, I have been leading the definition and development of a new computer simulation tool that predicts the number of aircraft that could safely fly in the airspace if new rules, procedures or technologies are introduced to the airspace system.

Areas of expertise:
Aerospace engineers must have skills in many areas. As a new researcher, I needed to have skills in math, physics and computer science. My first job was to write computer programs that solved math equations that predicted how much lift a jet engine can provide for an aircraft. I also worked a member of experimental teams where each member must rely on the inputs of his/her co-workers to get the job done. For example, I worked with a team that included machinists, electronics technicians, photographers, mechanics and aerospace engineers to build and test a model aircraft in the wind tunnel. Today, my job as a manager requires all my skills in math, science and teamwork. It also requires skills in business and economics in order to manage a budget. Above all, I must communicate clearly in writing and speech.

How I first became interested in this profession
I decided to study aerospace engineering when I was in college. I know many aerospace engineers that were intrigued by airplanes or space flight and therefore decided to pursue the field. I was different though, in that my interest in aerospace engineering was sparked by my love of swimming. I was a competitive swimmer who wanted to understand why moving your arms or legs a certain way would make you swim faster. It turns out that the same things that help a swimmer swim faster also make aircraft fly better. So, I decided to study aerospace engineering.

What helped me prepare for this job
I prepared for an aerospace engineering career by continuing my education. I attended college for four years to obtain a degree in Applied Math. Then, I attended graduate school were I earned a doctorate in Aerospace Engineering. Prior to graduate school, I did not know any aerospace engineers. Nevertheless, I believed my parents when they told me that I could do anything that I wanted to do.

My role models or inspirations
My parents were the biggest inspirations in helping me become an aerospace engineer. They believed that I could do anything I wanted to do, and so I took it upon myself to get a doctorate degree and pursue a career in aerospace.

My education and training
I have been working as an aerospace engineer at NASA for 16 years. I think of my career as three separate 5-year jobs. In each job, I worked with new people on new projects and gained more responsibility. For the first five years, I was a technical specialist who tested aircraft in the wind tunnels and who ran computer programs to simulate air flows about vertical take-off aircraft. During the second five years, I became a team lead. I led a group of about 8 engineers who were developing computer simulations for aircraft in landing configurations. In this role, I scheduled and reported the group’s progress. For the last five years, I have worked as a manager. I plan the work, insure that my organization has a budget to support the work, and I oversee staff members who perform the airspace simulation work.

What I like best about my job
I like my job because I am able to build new things that will make it easier to travel in the future. It is most exciting when I can see something I designed get used on an aircraft or in the air traffic system. But, aviation involves such big systems that sometimes the new part that I produce seems like a very small piece. It is very important to realize that small pieces from efforts by many people can accomplish goals for something as large as the field of aviation. I also enjoy working with people so managing a team is a good job for me.

What I like least about my job
The downside is that managers must also make decisions that are not popular such as disciplining poor performers, downsizing staff or reducing funding for favorite projects.

My advice to anyone interested in this occupation
My advice to anyone interested in an engineering career is to first focus on academic excellence, particularly in math and science. Since engineers often work on teams, look for opportunities to team with others to accomplish a goal; for example, you might want to work on a group project or participate in a team sport. Also, take advantage of opportunities to practice public speaking such as class reports because engineers must have excellent communication skills to convey their ideas.

 
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