Week 7: Making Connections

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Sunday, July 18, 2021


Gina Pantano

Hello everyone.

I cannot believe we have less than three weeks left until we present at the SPS Symposium. I am definitely feeling the pressure since I still have a lot of work left to do for my project, and I have to start putting my slides together tomorrow. However, I am equally excited to hear about the other interns' projects and everything they have accomplished this summer. This past week I really focused on utilizing my time to make connections with employees at NASA and used what free time I had to attend interesting agency-wide presentations. 

Weekly Events

On Monday, I worked on my project throughout the morning/afternoon and updated my progress report for my mentor. Later on, we had our weekly collaboration meeting where we listened to updates from EXCLAIM team members. Afterwards, my mentor graciously agreed to an informational interview about his career path, his position at NASA, the pathways program, and graduate school. After our discussion, I felt a lot more confident about my plan to attend the University of South Florida to pursue my PhD in Applied Physics, and eventually, a career within the space industry. On Tuesday, I started the day by attending our brief MKID physics meeting at noon. Later on, I attended an agency-wide lecture on the NICER telescope and neutron stars by astronomer Dr. Michelle Thaller, who is a wonderful speaker! On Wednesday, I had my weekly high-fidelity simulation meeting with my mentor and Trevor. I was able to ask some clarifying questions and move on to new deliverables this week! Later in the afternoon, I had the chance to attend another talk by Dr. John Mather on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) which is always a pleasure. On Thursday, I attended another interesting talk about the Vegetable Production System on the International Space Station that studies plant growth in microgravity. Afterwards, we had a check-in with Dr. Rita Sambruna for all of the Astrophysics Science Division interns. The week ended with quiet Friday, which is a day for NASA employees to choose how they want to utilize the day for their own work-life balance, so we did not have any meetings. I decided to work on my project throughout the morning and then ended the day working on my NSF GRFP application. 

Overall Experience & Feelings

Overall, I am really happy with the effort I put into my project and networking this week. I am looking forward to putting my presentation together over the next few days and to be able to share the science behind EXCLAIM which will help intensity mapping experiments in the future. As summer is slowly coming to a close, I am about to begin what feels like a completely new chapter in my life starting graduate school. The decision has been weighing heavy on me whether graduate school is the appropriate choice, or if I should start my career early in the workforce. The reality is I do not think I will ever know what the right decision is. Something my mom always taught me, is that it's never too late to reinvent yourself. If graduate school ends up being the wrong path for me, I am not afraid to alter courses and use my undergraduate education to enter the private sector. With that being said, I still feel I have a lot to learn with physics, and I want to improve my research skills to eventually lead my own team of scientists one day, whether that will be for a NASA mission or building new revolutionary technologies. I know a PhD in Applied Physics will help me achieve that goal. Well, it couldn’t hurt!

Happy Researching!


Gina Pantano (she/her/hers)