Today’s guest blogger is Bryson Thill, a computer science major at Chapman University who recently interned at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. We lived in Maryland for three years and occasionally visited Goddard, several times for their model rocket days when kids and adults gathered for dozens of little launches. Because we’re educators, we’re especially proud to share Bryson’s story, and we think his concluding advice is important for students and the generally curious.
Also, take a look at the guest blog from another NASA intern, David Stack, by clicking HERE.
ON TAKING A CHANCE
It’s funny how seemingly simple decisions can have a tremendous impact on one’s future down the line. I was just looking to earn some extra cash in my junior year when I took a job that would very quickly lead to an incredible summer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center on the opposite side of the country. Through the internship, I learned more than I ever would have imagined I could in a single summer, explored a very different part of the country, and met many incredibly talented students and researchers.
In October 2010, my professor of Physics 101, Dr. Eyal Amitai, informed me and several friends of mine that he was looking for a computer science student to assist with a NASA-related research project. I was the only one with enough time to take on such a task, and I had been actively, but unsuccessfully, looking for a job. It sounded perfect right from the start. For the rest of the academic year, I worked with Dr. Amitai developing software to help evaluate satellite precipitation estimates. In February, he suggested that I apply to the summer internship program at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, where he has worked for more than 15 years. I agreed, and one month later, I received an email informing me that I had been accepted into the SIES (Summer Institute in the Earth Sciences) to further explore the research that I had begun during the academic year as a student research assistant.
In early June, following the end of the spring semester at Chapman University, I got on a plane headed for Maryland, where I spent the next two and a half months being completely immersed in the world of research. My task was to write several imaging and analysis applications to evaluate data retrieved from several precipitation-observing satellites. This data was compared with observations of the same rainy events taken by ground-based radar instruments. Discrepancies between the two data sets would indicate an issue in the satellites, the radar systems, or both. Such discrepancies are relatively frequent, and their sources must be pinpointed so that the software used to analyze signals received from the satellites may be improved for future missions, like the GPM (Global Precipitation Measurement) Mission set to be launched in 2013.
The software that I wrote has helped identify particular conditions under which satellite observations and ground-based observations show significant incongruity. This information can be taken into account during the development of algorithms used for future missions. But despite these accomplishments, I’d had no experience in the earth sciences prior to my work with Dr. Amitai. His tremendous assistance as a mentor throughout my work with him allowed me to gain insight into a world of research to which I had never been exposed. During my time at Goddard, I was free to attend a huge variety of seminars regarding the earth sciences, and climate change in particular, by leading experts in the field. The opportunity given to interns to learn and to get accustomed to the field of research was remarkable.
Outside of the work itself, the internship was a priceless life experience. I made friends from all over the country, had a “real Maryland crab feast” by the water in Annapolis, and went hiking along the Potomac River. I attended lectures by astronauts and Nobel Prize-winning physicists and watched a live broadcast of the final shuttle launch with hundreds of passionate NASA researchers, some of whom had worked for years on instruments aboard that very mission. Having lived in California for my entire life, the decision to spend three months thousands of miles away at a prestigious research facility was a little nerve-wracking. But it was easily one of the most rewarding experiences in my life.
College is the time to take those kinds of chances. If you’re a student considering applying to a job or internship that’s a bit outside your comfort zone, I whole-heartedly recommend that you give it a shot. The worst that could happen is you will discover that you are not interested in pursing a career in a particular field. On the other hand, you might have the time of your life discovering new places, meeting new people, and learning more about yourself.