Visualization Lead, NASA Chandra X-Ray Kimberly Kowal ArcandObservatory



What career did you imagine yourself in as a young girl? I remember wanting to be a doctor, and an astronaut, and a veterinarian when I was very young. I always thought I’d end up in science somehow, but I definitely didn’t imagine I’d be doing what I do now.

What are your favorite aspects of your job? I’d have to list a few things:
Getting to “leave” planet Earth each day (not physically of course!), which, strange as it sounds, helps me be more mindful of our own home planet and the people on it. The excitement of new discoveries, or interesting revisions of old ones. Helping to get others interested in astronomy, physics and other sciences.

What is a typical day like at your job? I’m a morning person, so I like to be up early before my kids are awake to do a couple hours of reading, email, and social media. I will get on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, etc., to catch up on the people (and news) in the various fields I follow–from astrophysics to zoology, and computer science to politics. Then, after reviewing my calendar, I will break for a couple hours to get the kids off to school, eat, and get ready for the day.

Mid to late mornings are usually devoted to working on projects, writing/editing, research, and responding to people or requests, with afternoons often taken up by telecons/videoconferencing or in-person meetings. I usually try to conclude between 4 and 5 for picking up the kids and getting them to activities, having dinner with my family and whatnot. I often check email and social media once or twice more at night.

I work with people in a number of time zones and have had to schedule telecons at 5am or 7pm to connect with certain groups, so having flexibility with my availability is important. I try to take a lot of mini-breaks throughout the day so I’m not sitting staring at a screen too much, but it’s something I’m still working on.

I juggle many different kinds of projects on tight timelines and with a small group of people to work with, so my weeks tend to be deadline-driven. Usually, I will try to concentrate on a specific project or task that has an immediate need throughout the course of a single week with smaller bits and pieces for other projects being filled in between.

Do you have any special skills or hidden talents? I can whistle through my teeth. Does that count?

Who are YOUR role models? Too many to count! My personal role models would range from my group’s director to my mother. Professionally, people like Eileen Collins and Cady Coleman (both astronauts) are just so incredible to follow. I feel inspired by a lot of people in my life, however.

Read more about her career! Science Journalist

Bio: Kimberly did her undergraduate work at the University of Rhode Island in biology/zoology, specializing in parasitology and infectious disease. She also studied some computer science, doing some post-undergraduate work at Harvard, and taught an Introduction to Computer Science class at University of Rhode Island for a couple semesters. After many years of work in science visualization and communications, she later decided to get a master’s degree in Brown University’s Public Humanities program, which let her combine her interests in public science, and image and meaning. As part of her career, she was able to write popular science books, a lifelong dream of hers since she is an avid reader. She co-wrote an introduction to the cosmos with a very close colleague and they have since moved on to writing additional books. Her work requires computer and internet skills, good organization and communication skills, management skills, as well as the desire to be a lifelong learner. Also important are flexibility, creativity and aesthetics, cultural cognition, and empathy.

These days, Kimberly works from home officially, but she also does plenty of “off-site” meetings, and meetings at her work office. When she’s not working, she enjoys hanging out with her kids and husband, reading, knitting, baking, and travelling and sightseeing!