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Meet: Karen Borski

Mission Science Support Engineer
NASA Johnson Space Center


Who am I?

I work as a mission science support engineer at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Most of the work I do involves archiving science experiments in a computer database called the Life Sciences Data Archive. An archive is a collection of information in a specific area. This particular archive will provide information about NASA's life sciences research so that others, especially researchers, teachers and students, will have easy access to it using the Internet.

My work on this project includes learning about all of the science experiments in the current NASA/Mir joint space program, learning about past missions and experiments (including those that happened before I was even born!) and working with computers to record all this information. I read about the science experiments, attend meetings and conferences, and help develop NASA Web sites - all to help the public understand the types of science research that is done at NASA and the outcome and benefits of that research. I am constantly communicating with other NASA employees who work at different locations all over the country. We use e-mail, phone-conferencing and sometimes video-conferencing to stay in touch. In my office, I work closely with others in small teams, but also spend time working alone.


My Career Journey

In school, I didn't have any favorite courses, but was interested in wide-ranging topics such as writing, music, drawing, science, English and history. Because of this, I had a difficult time choosing a specific educational path to follow once I got to college. I had always been interested in the space program, since I am fascinated by adventure and travel. Mostly due to the sound of the name, I decided that majoring in aerospace engineering would allow me the best chance for a career in the space program.

But after talking with working engineers, professors and other students, I decided I would change my major to bioengineering. This degree combines the study of engineering with the study of medicine and physiology (how the human body works). I had learned that a great variety of people work at NASA and only a fraction of those were aerospace engineers. I found that it was best for me to follow an educational path that allowed me to study a variety of topics, but would provide several options after graduation, including working as an engineer, attending medical school or another type of graduate school. That way, I would have the flexibility to change my mind, which I am prone to do!


Influences

Even before I started kindergarten, I remember my father trying to teach me math by splitting a pie into pieces. And I recall him trying to teach me each about each type of bird that flew into our yard and what type of tree they landed in. Although, I never thought these instances had any influence on me at such a young age, now I feel that the attention my family gave me while I was growing up developed my interests in the way things work, which is the basis of engineering and science.

I also recall a high school calculus teacher who was very tough, but confident in her students' abilities; she instilled confidence in me and pushed me to do more than I thought I could. I never really enjoyed math until her class! There were also several college professors who brought all the aspects of learning together, showing how closely all the courses that had been separated throughout school were all inter-related and really had practical uses.


Personal Information

A Houston native, I was born in 1971 and grew up in the wooded suburb northwest of the city. I attended Texas A&M University in College Station. When I graduated in 1993, the job market was not very good for engineers or scientists. I took a job at a law firm in downtown Houston working with computers, learning about business law, while waiting for a job opening at NASA. I sent out lots of resumes and interviewed with a several different types of companies, but kept waiting for the job I wanted. About a year after I graduated, I was hired by the NASA contractor Lockheed Martin at the Johnson Space Center.

I live in Clear Lake, only a few minutes from where I work. Luckily, a lot of my friends from college are living in this area, too. Besides spending time with my friends, I enjoy being outdoors as much as possible. My favorite activities are hiking, studying wildlife and the environment, riding horses, and canoeing and rafting rivers. At home, I enjoy reading, watching movies and listening to music.


Likes/Dislikes About Career

I like working for NASA and learning about spaceflight and the ways in which the space environment affects living things. I really believe that technical advances, like those that originate from the space program, are beneficial to the Earth and humankind. I like the variety of work which I am able to participate in on a daily basis. Surprisingly, I have come to enjoy working on computers and developing information for use on the Internet (I hated computers just a few years ago!). I also enjoy working with so many talented people and learning from them.

I really have no strong dislikes about my career, but I do miss some activities which I used to enjoy more frequently. I used to draw and paint illustrations for magazines in high school and college, and I miss creating artwork. I also miss having time to play music and be part of a string orchestra. Engineering does have creative outlets, though. I have the opportunity to design and create new ideas and products every day. It's just a different way of being creative!


My Future Plans and Goals

Even though I have worked here two years, I am still learning so much in my current job that I have not yet made solid plans for the future. I know that I would like to return to school to pursue a graduate degree, but I am not sure what type of degree or when I will start.


Advice

I have learned that it's best to explore all your options and try a lot of different things, and most importantly - never stop learning! Find out what really interests you by studying a broad variety of topics in school and interacting with many types of people. When you find a career choice that is interesting, talk to people working in that field and read as much as you can about it. Try to get jobs, or even volunteer, in fields that interest you. And if you find out that it's not what you want to do, keep searching. Hard work, perseverance and initiative are the keys to success.


 
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