So today I thought I'd share the story of how I got where I am today. For some reason, I've been asked the question a lot lately, so the twisted tale of my journey to running a planetarium and observatory has been much on my mind lately. Besides, it's so bloody hot outside, no one wants to do any observing anyway (but you still have a good shot at seeing Saturn and maybe even Mars in the early evening sky if you want to give it a try...look to the southwest just after sunset! Saturn is the golden yellow bright "star"...Mars is a faint, dull orangey-looking "star" just to the right a bit).
|The night sky of July 18, 2012. Facing South.|
So, me. Everyone loves talking about themselves, don't they?
I've always been interested in the sky and astronomy, ever since I was a little kid. I grew up in New York City (New York City!!??!!???) so my skies were most definitely not the best. Still, when I was old enough to travel into Manhattan by myself, I would spend long days at the American Museum of Natural History and the Hayden Planetarium (now the Rose Center for Earth and Space) enjoying the darkest skies around.
I also loved music, and as I headed into Wagner College on Staten Island, I thought I'd major in that. But the summer before I began college, I realized that to be a professional singer I needed more talent and an agent, not a degree. I was also good at math, so I thought I might major in that. Had no idea what I could do with a math degree except teach, which didn't excite me. So I went undeclared and sampled lots of cool courses during my first year...including a physics class. I was hooked. I majored in physics, doing my senior thesis on energy audits of buildings.
I knew very quickly that I wanted to take a higher degree in physics, and was accepted to the Ph.D. program at the College of William and Mary. I eventually did my thesis in theoretical nuclear physics, but during my studies I got to do some papers on astrophysics as well. More importantly, I found I really needed a break from the work, so I started volunteering in the observatory at the Virginia Living Museum, giving me 4 hours a week where I wasn't obsessing about my thesis.
Seven years later I was still plodding along on the thesis, but I was also panicking. Years of working in the ivory tower had taught me that research was not at all my favorite thing. Suddenly, I had no idea what I was going to do with the rest of my life. Luckily, an opportunity came up at the Virginia Living Museum. Their part-time planetarium lecturer was leaving. I'd love to say they begged me to work for them, but the truth is I begged them to wait for me. I needed to finish the thesis...but then I couldn't imagine anything more fun than working in the planetarium and observatory every day. They were willing, and I got the job.
Fifteen years later I've worked my way around to being in charge of all the astronomy stuff here at the museum. My job is a wonderful mix of teaching, live performance, film & theater production, and occasionally blowing things up. It's the best thing I could ever imagine doing. Okay, maybe the second best thing. See the image below for the best thing ever.
|My husband Philip, me, and our little girl, Margaret. Totally the best thing ever.|
So sometimes it really does pay off to follow your heart and do what you love. It's worth a heck of a lot to be able to get up everyday and be happy to go to work. So, I guess the point of today's post is try to find a way to do what you love to do. When I was trying to figure out what that was for me, I got great help from a book called What Color is Your Parachute? - I highly recommended it to anyone out there who's trying to figure out what they'd like to do with the rest of their life.
Next time, we'll probably be talking about a certain Mars rover...but until then...