Livin' It categories: Outer Space
Staff Scientist, Carnegie Institution for Science
What is a typical day like at your job? I work at a research institution, so I don’t teach. I mostly sit in front of my computer to analyze my data and write up my results. As an observational astronomer, I need to travel to telescopes or observe remotely, but I only spend maybe 10% of my time gathering data and much more analyzing it. I have lunch most days with my colleagues. Three or four times a week, I go to talks to learn about other people’s results. Students and postdocs that I’m working with on research projects pop in and out of my office to talk.
What types of people do you interact with at your job? I interact with other scientists as we work on projects together. Some of the important people to making my job smooth are those who handle the administration at my workplace–the business managers who help me submit proposals and keep track of research funding I’ve spent, the administrative staff who help plan and run meetings, and the librarians who can get me articles or books that I need. At the telescope, there are a lot of important technical staff who keep the telescopes and electronic cameras running smoothly.
What do you wear to work? I get to wear pretty much whatever I want! Usually, I dress very casually.
What do you like to do outside of work? I enjoy going to the theater, and I have season tickets to the Shakespeare Theater in DC. My favorite Shakespeare play is Richard II.
I am married and have two children. I like family activities, which can be everything from playing a board game, to planting a vegetable garden, to going to the pool, to attending plays and concerts. I like every weekend to have a family outing of some sort.
What qualities or skills are important for this career? Perseverance, curiosity, enthusiasm, and creativity, as well as communication skills. When I really want to puzzle out an answer or design a way to learn something new, I need all of those. I think non-scientists particularly underestimate how much creativity a scientist needs. We’re always designing new experiments and trying new techniques. We inform other scientists about our results through talks and papers, so reading, writing, and public speaking are extremely important.
Who are YOUR role models? I met Vera Rubin when I was a college student, and she continues to be a role model to me. She let her curiosity lead her to untangle scientific puzzles, such as whether dark matter dominates the mass of galaxies. She is always excited about new discoveries and a tireless advocate for women in science. She’s also just a wonderfully nice person.
Bio: Alycia Weinberger was influenced by her parents to pursue her impressive career in science. She played with technical toys with her father, who also studied science himself and showed Alycia how science is “the most interesting human endeavor.” The love of science certainly ran in her family as both her brother and sister went on to become chemists! However, Alycia decided to study physics instead–she received a bachelor’s degree in physics from University of Pennsylvania, and then earned a PhD in physics from California Institute of Technology. She now works as an observational astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science. Most days, she works in her office where she analyzes and writes up her data, but as an observational astronomer, she also gets to go to telescopes! “Observing runs entail several days of intense hard work, but they are also a thrill.” The most difficult part of her work, according to Alycia, is time management. Her job requires her to strike a balance between community service, like peer review of proposals and papers, long-term planning, and producing results in the here and now. However, she also gets to travel a lot, to go to different telescopes, as well as attend various scientific conferences!