Dr. Claudia J. Alexander

STEM Spotlight

US Rosetta Project Scientist (Project Scientist representing the NASA contribution to the International Rosetta Mission)

What I like most about my position: 

I represent the United States of America when I am overseas doing my job. What a responsibility! We want to assure that NASA is a respected and sought after partner for collaboration in space exploration. I take that role very seriously. In addition, we work as a team to understand the mysteries of comets. Solving science problems is like a puzzle. The challenge is very satisfying.

Who or what has made a difference in my career:

My faculty advisors have been critical to learning the ropes in my field. In addition, I have had one or two senior people step in at critical places in my career to help steer me, and to help hone skills I already had but wasn’t using very well. One was a professor in undergraduate school. Another was someone in the workplace who over heard me yelling at someone over the phone one day!

Finally, I should mention that my parents had high expectations and set high bars for their kids. They sacrificed and made sure that we could be positioned to be successful academically. They insisted that I do something technical for a career, and I was not happy about it for a while, but in the end they were right. For this I’ll always be grateful.

I felt like quitting when: 

Early in my career, I was working 90 hour weeks for about 6 weeks trying to made deliveries on both the Galileo project (exploring Jupiter), and our brand new internet site (in the 90s, when the internet was completely undeveloped, we had a grant from NASA to develop one of the first science-learning websites). I was supposed to be doing 50% on each project, which was 45 hours per project and well over full time! It was exhausting. When one delivery was done and I dropped down to 45 hours on the second project, I was reprimanded by the supervisor of that project for charging them too much. It’s discouraging not to have one’s work appreciated, or worse, to feel like the extra hours are expected and the supervisors are looking the other way while you overextend yourself. This is nothing new in the workplace, however. And the hard work we put into developing the internet has been rewarded ten thousand-fold in the decades since.

My strategies for success are: 

  • Listen!
  • Never believe you are the smartest person in the room – someone else may have a great deal to contribute to any discussion.
  • Think outside of the box.
  • Be essential in any project you take on.
  • Pay attention to innovations that are going on outside of your home venue.

I am excited to be working on: 

Exploring a small body like a comet with the Rosetta spacecraft. It is a privilege to work with a team on a flagship-style mission (one of the biggest and most ambitious of space exploration missions).

Learning more about the origin of the solar system.

Creating science-learning books for school kids to pass along everything I’ve learned about the planets in a (hopefully) fun way. I’m trying to create something for kids to read that I would have wanted to read in 3rd-4th grade. Something with a few fantasy characters, a little magic, but with the fun of exploring other planets and stars – something I’ve also learned a little about in my career.

My life is: 

Amazing right now! A project scientist is at the height of her profession, and it’s a very exciting role. Writing books (and winning awards as an author!) fulfills a deep desire that I’ve harbored since girlhood. (I have stories beating their way out of my brain). It’s a huge blessing to be able to address everything I’ve wanted to do as a professional. And I’m grateful to have been able to see the culmination of a lot of hard work.

Dr. Claudia Alexander  – a STEM role model. Subscribe to Dr. McCauley’s blog and be a part of the conversation.