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Shawn Domagal-Goldman - Looking for What's "Out There"
December 16, 2014

Part Two of Two

[image-70]Name: Shawn Domagal-Goldman
Title: Research Space Scientist
Organization: Code 699, Planetary Environments Laboratory, Planetary Science Division, Science and Exploration Directorate

Research space scientist Shawn Domagal-Goldman is part of a team looking for life beyond Earth.

What do you hope to be doing at Goddard in five years?

In five years, I hope to be working on papers that detail the science capabilities of the Advanced Technology Large Aperture Space Telescope mission. That’ll be the point at which we’re trying to simulate the science capabilities of such a mission and I really hope I play a significant role in that effort. I also hope that I’ll be on the Mars 2020 team, wringing my hands over the “two minutes of terror” when we’re waiting for the next Mars mission to land on the planet’s surface. See the video about those "two minutes of terror":  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ki_Af_o9Q9s

What path did you take to become a research space scientist?

For my work, everything started with physics. I have an undergraduate degree in physics from the University of Rochester, which gave me an understanding of the rules about how the universe works. My college education also taught me critical thinking skills.

Towards the end of my college experience, I became really interested in the search for life beyond Earth and found out that I could get a degree in this new discipline called astrobiology. I went to Pennsylvania State University, which was the only school that offered a Ph.D. in astrobiology at that time. (Now, the University of Washington also offers a Ph.D. in astrobiology.) Because astrobiology was a new field, I was required to also major in a traditional discipline which, in my case, was geosciences. So my degree is in astrobiology and geosciences.

One of the keys to astrobiology is working with people from other fields. For my post-doctoral fellowship, I went to the University of Washington to work with astrophysicists and astronomers. There, I learned how to take what I knew about the history of Earth and apply it to the search for life on other worlds. Finally, I had to learn how to make the measurements that can test our hypotheses about these places. That’s why I’m at Goddard, where we have the best engineers in the world working on building those tests.

What is it like working on missions that can last 20 years?

I like it a lot. I like having a long-term goal to reach for with a group. I also like that whenever I meet a bright student, I can encourage him or her to keep working hard because he or she could end up working with me on that mission.

For example, even someone who is in grade school right now could end up in graduate school by the time a future flagship mission launches. That person could end up writing their dissertation on the data from that mission. A person in high school right now could be a well-established scientist by then and end up being my boss on that mission!

It’s also great to be on a long-term project because I genuinely like the people I work with. The scientists and engineers I interact with on a daily basis are great people and are the best in the world at what they do. So it’s really cool that I’ll be working with these people for the next twenty years.

What lessons or words of wisdom would you pass along to somebody thinking about being a research scientist?

Find a subject matter that you are good at and also that you love. Then you’ll be happy and successful. Science is hard. You have to be smart and you have to work really hard. There are lots of other smart people out there. You may be the smartest person in your high school, but in college there may be many others just as smart as or even smarter than you. You have to accept that and just work that much harder and you will have a brilliant career.

And that hard work is a LOT easier if you love what you do. That way it doesn't really feel like work.

Is this your dream job?

I’m doing what I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid. Every day I come to Goddard, I’m working on my dream job.

Is there something surprising about you, your hobbies, interests or activities outside of work that people do not generally know?

I try to apply the scientific method to all kinds of sports that I love. I think it is really cool that I can forecast the statistics of baseball players and that my forecasts are pretty good and help me win in fantasy baseball leagues with my friends. I even blog about sports statistics.

 Also, I love poetry. Ever since high school, I’ve enjoyed reading Shakespeare, Whitman, Angelou and many others. I’ve written poems from time to time as well, but they’re usually not about science. So you can sometimes catch me at an open mic night reading things I’ve written and you’d probably never guess I was a scientist!

Read Part One of Shawn's article.

Read more Conversations With Goddard.

Also read about what our people do Outside Goddard.

Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

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Shawn Domagal-Goldman
Shawn Domagal-Goldman
Image Credit: 
NASA/D. McCallum
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Page Last Updated: December 16th, 2014
Page Editor: Lynn Jenner