Kat Robison

  • Here’s what’s so frustrating to me about this entire election and the way Trump treats women (and other minorities) and how people treat Hillary:

    As a woman who is smart, successful, and outspoken I must […]

  • ThumbnailTonight the GOP showed that it has been paying attention to America. The Republican Party chose Joni Ernst, a freshman senator from Iowa to deliver their response to President Obama’s State of the Union address […]

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    I set out to write a post about the representation of women at the 2014 International Astronautical Congress (IAC) earlier this fall in Toronto, instead, all I could think about was how much the women at IAC […]

  • I remember, when I was a teenager, thinking that EVERYTHING was life and death and how if things didn’t go my way, how life, as I knew it, would probably end forever. I was so wrong. And you know what? I wouldn’t […]

  • “You’re scary smart.” 

    A male friend of mine said that to me a few years ago, he meant it as a compliment, but it’s stuck with me because of all it implies. How often are men criticized for being […]

  • OCO-2 NASA Social Group

    OCO-2 NASA Social Group credit: NASA JPL

    This week, thanks to NASA, I received social media accreditation to attend a NASA Social event for the launch of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 (OCO-2) at Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) in California. In the end, I didn’t actually get to see the launch, thanks to a scrub on the first attempt and clouds in Los Angeles on the second, but the overall experience was one that made watching the launch on NASA TV on my iPad at a gas station completely worth it.

    OCO-2 was the 81st NASA Social held and its launch marked the 51st launch of a Delta II for NASA by United Launch Alliance (ULA). It is the first of four “Return to Flight” missions for the Delta II, which had been no longer in use by NASA. For NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP), the launch had special meaning. LSP recently lost one of their longtime colleagues, Laurie Walls, a thermal discipline expert for LSP until her death on June 4th, 2014. They dedicated OCO-2’s launch to her.

    OCO-2 credit: Bill Ingalls

    OCO-2 credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

    OCO-2 is an Earth Science satellite that will join a group of other Earth-observing satellites in orbit. It is the first mission dedicated solely to the measurement of atmospheric CO2. OCO-2 will be able to accurately measure CO2 sources and sinks on our planet. With our rapidly changing climate, the scientific data gathered by this mission will be invaluable. Climate Change is real. OCO-2 will help us to identify the sinks that help absorb atmospheric CO2 and the sources that contribute to the steadily increasing concentrations of CO2 over the last 50 years.

    NASA is an agency that faces a lot of criticism from the general public; a public that often questions the need for an agency dedicated to exploration and pushing the boundaries of what we know. However, without NASA, we, both as a nation and as a planet, would lack certain technologies that many of us consider necessary to our daily lives. Many advances in medical technologies, like improved MRI scans, were made possible by NASA. Research done on the International Space Station continues to contribute to advances in our scientific and medical knowledge.

    One product developed for NASA stands out because it was designed for use on the rockets of the Atlas program at VAFB. Our tour guide from the 30th Space Wing, Senior Airman Shane Phipps, was happy to tell us the story behind it. That product, WD-40, was developed to prevent rust on the Atlas missiles. Painting the rockets to protect their metal components from rust would have added too much weight to the Atlas missile, so WD-40 was developed by the Rocket Chemical Company for Convair (who was contracted by NASA to develop the Atlas missiles). WD-40 is just one of many NASA spinoffs that include such things as artificial limbs and invisible braces.

    NASA has done extremely well connecting with its audience through social media platforms. The accreditation of social media followers to report on launch events is one way they have sought to bring in a new audience to its work. This event was my fifth NASA Social event (my first was at NASA JPL in 2011, when they were still referred to as NASA Tweetups), and for many reasons, I could easily say it stands out among the others. Though, I am an alumna of previous events, this was my first one as a selected member of social media rather than as a randomly selected follower of NASA’s social media accounts. The difference was apparent and welcome. That is not to say that the other events were somehow inferior, but their feeling was much different. At regular events, the vast majority of people who get to attend are people who live and breath NASA and space exploration, at the OCO-2 event, while everyone was interested in space, it was a much more diverse group.

    The group selected to attend included fiction and non-fiction writers, educators, photographers, traditional news media, scientists, PR professionals, TV personalities, and even a pundit. Every single person in the room was a thoughtful, intelligent person with a lot to contribute, not only to the atmosphere of the event, but also to our society in general. Of course, as a woman who also considers herself a nerd, I must note, there were a lot of amazing and impressive women gathered in that room.

    One thing that has stood out to me over the years that I have been visiting NASA centers and generally following NASA, is how often you encounter incredibly smart women there. This event was no exception. The social media team at NASA JPL ran point on organizing the event for us. The “hive mind” behind the very successful @MarsCuriosity twitter account, Veronica McGregor (@VeronicaMcG), Stephanie Smith (@Stephist), and Courtney O’Connor (@CourtOConnor), are some of the first women I ever met who worked at NASA. Veronica actually ran NASA’s first twitter account (@MarsPhoenix), as well as organized the agency’s first NASA Tweetup. Veronica is a very savvy professional and is a personal role model. She cares very deeply for the women she works with and for those of us she inspires.

    As part of the official program for the event, the attendees got to hear from scientists and engineers on the OCO-2 project. I was thrilled that there were several women in prominent positions on the team. As the Deputy Project Scientist, Annemarie Eldering (@Eldering_CO2) put it “if you can get the job done, it’s yours.” This sentiment encapsulates what we, as women, hope to one day experience at every job, and in every part of our lives. Dr. Eldering excelled at communicating with the audience. Many people overlook the importance of being a great science communicator; you can be armed with all the scientific evidence in the world, but if you aren’t able to make that information accessible and understandable to the general public, it’s useless to them. However, throw in an analogy to beer like Dr. Eldering did, and most people will be willing to listen and follow along.

    Pavani Peddada credit: Kat Robison

    Pavani Peddada credit: Kat Robison

    My favorite speaker was engineer Pavani Peddada, she is the Verification and Validation Lead for OCO-2. I got the chance to speak with her for a little bit after the event and I was continually impressed with her enthusiasm for the job. She also was a great communicator. Peddada emphasized that one of the great things about her job was that she got to make the grand visions of the scientists into realities. I also had the opportunity to ask her to speak about her experience as a woman in STEM. Her advice to young women: “If you enjoy doing something, go after it!”

    Both Dr. Eldering and Peddada spoke about the importance of being persistent with your dreams, no matter what your dreams are, and these women understand persistence. The reason this mission is known as OCO-2 is because the first OCO failed to reach orbit, through no fault of their own. The original OCO failed to separate from its payload faring and therefore the satellite was lost. You are going to fail, sometimes because of your decisions and sometimes because of others, but you can’t let that make you a failure. It’s your dream, your future. Because we are women, we usually have to work harder and smarter than men to chase our dreams, and sometimes we can’t escape our payload faring, but we can always try again.

    At Vandenberg, I met many women who had chased their dreams and attained them. Women from all walks of life, from science to entertainment and everything in between. These women didn’t wait for someone else to make a place for them, they went out and claimed their own. These women remind me a lot of what we think of NASA during its early years. President Kennedy made a speech and inspired a nation. With the support of its citizens, we were able to accomplish what many thought was impossible.

    Bolden speaks to OCO-2 Social credit: Kat Robison

    Bolden speaks to OCO-2 Social credit: Kat Robison

    We cannot discount the importance of exploration to our nation.  At the OCO-2 NASA Social, we had the opportunity to speak with NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, veteran of four shuttle missions. He spoke about the importance of pushing forward and taking risks. He acknowledged that the loss of life is still a risk as we continue to expand the boundaries of what we can do. “We owe it to people to continue to advance. We need to leave behind a nation committed to frontiering… and that’s not afraid to take risks.”

    NASA and its mission is important, and the agency fights an uphill battle every year for funding and public recognition of its need to exist. A frightening number of people actually think NASA doesn’t exist anymore because the Space Shuttle program has ended. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Earth Science missions like OCO-2 are integral to our ability, as a nation and a species, to take care of our fragile blue oasis. Future exploration of our universe will be led, as always, by NASA astronauts, and in a few short years, those astronauts will launch again from American soil.

    Early in the morning on July 1, I sat with a group of like-minded people, people who believe that we are still a nation of explorers and whom agree that NASA is an important part of that exploration. As we laughed over Larry Hill’s (Chief Community Relations Officer at VAFB) comment of it’s “T-You do the math” and later commiserated over a scrub with only 46 seconds to go until launch, we knew that the launch would eventually happen, that the people involved would persevere. Even though I didn’t end up being able to watch the launch at VAFB, being a part of the group gathered together to learn about the mission and share it with our respective audiences was worth the cross-country trip.

    I watched the successful launch of OCO-2 on a Delta II from a gas station a few miles away from LAX. I wasn’t surrounded by any of the wonderful people I met at VAFB, but I wasn’t alone. People from all over the world, and from all walks of life, gathered online together to watch what human hands made leave Earth. America may be a nation facing a lot of problems, but we are a nation of great successes as well. To date, we are still the only country whose citizens have set foot on extraterrestrial soil. We may be out of the World Cup, but when it comes to flags on the Moon, America is still 1 – 0 to everyone else.

    Jeff Sullivan Photography http://www.jeffsullivanphotography.com/

    OCO-2 Launches credit: Jeff Sullivan Photography

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    We’ve come a long way, a really long way. CraftLass recently wrote about traditions and mentalities; excellent pieces examining how she viewed the traditional gender roles and questioning where they came from, […]

  • Trigger Warning: Discussion of Gun Violence and Sexual Violence
    Last week, like many of you, I was shaken to hear of the shootings in Isla Vista that specifically targeted women. These shootings resulted in the […]

  • ThumbnailI’ve wasted so much time in my life, mainly through worrying about people, situations, and circumstances that I have no control over. Worry is completely useless, yet it’s a habit that I, and many of my fellow […]

  • Note: This is the conclusion of this series, you can catch up on the rest of it here.

    Yesterday, I was on an airplane (as I am most Wednesdays) and was reading, for perhaps the hundredth time, one of Diane […]

  • Speak Up
    «Part 1: Confrontation Isn’t a 4-Letter Word
    Part 3: Finding Your Voice at Work»

    image courtesy of  http://stoptellingwomentosmile.com/

    image courtesy ofhttp://stoptellingwomentosmile.com/

    A few evenings ago, I sat around a table filled with women ranging in ages from early twenties to late fifties. While sharing conversation over food and drinks the topic of gender expectations came up. We were discussing how women are taught that it’s not okay to accept compliments. Not surprisingly, that conversation led to a discussion of other areas where women are taught differently or have separate expectations put on them for “appropriate” behavior; eventually this led to the topic of confrontation.
    Last week we spoke about defining what confrontation is and some of the basics of handling confrontation well. As a reminder, confrontation is a healthy conversation with another party intended to resolve an issue or a misunderstanding. We looked at how it is important to be able to confront ourselves before we are able to be able to do the same effectively with others.  To that end, we left off by asking ourselves a few questions meant to help us become more self-aware about how we deal with conflict. Hopefully, after some introspection, you were able to identify how you have been handling conflict in your life. Self-awareness is key to successful confrontation. If you are self-aware, you are better able to identify situations in which confrontation is both helpful and needed.
    The first area of confrontation we will deal with is confrontation with strangers who overstep bounds – whether it is a personal boundary or a societal one. We are beginning in this place because it is often easier to speak up to people who don’t know you (and therefore have no expectations of you) than it is to speak up to those you are closest with. As with any skill confrontation gets easier the more you practice it. Those who are most successful at confrontation are those who make the skill a part of their everyday repertoire in interacting with others. These are the women who are confident in who they are and their place in the world and should you attempt to undermine that, will be able to tactfully remind you of that without making you feel small.
    Before you are able to confront a stranger, you must be able to identify those situations in which a confrontation is helpful. It is not practical or necessary for you to confront every person you meet who is overstepping their bounds – if you do so, you become the one overstepping a boundary. A helpful way to think about this is to consider the outcome of your confrontation. If saying something will contribute to the growth of the individual you are confronting or to the well-being of another person, it is likely a good situation to say something. If saying something will do nothing but upset you, others, or put you in harm’s way, it is best to avoid the confrontation (although, as a caveat here, if you see someone actively harming another person, even if you are not able to speak up for the victim you can always call for help).
    One situation in which you might find yourself in often is that of witnessing a stranger being rude to service personnel such as wait staff or clerks. I was once in a situation where I was purchasing an item in a clothing store with only one employee who happened to be Asian. The credit card machine was running very slowly and there was another patron in the store who was very annoyed by this and very impatient to have her question answered. She asked the clerk once, and the clerk responded that she would be with her as soon as she finished my transaction. The other customer, another woman, huffed and rolled her eyes. After a minute or two she turned to me and said: “I can’t stand all these Asians. Can you believe this, how rude? Why did she even come here if she can’t do her job?”
    I was aghast. This woman was making a blatantly racist comment in front of a clerk who was actually doing her job quite well in light of being the only employee there. In this moment, I had a choice, I could either ignore the comment, or use it as an opportunity to confront a stranger who was clearly in the wrong. I chose the latter. I turned to the woman and said: “Actually, you’re the one who is being rude. This woman’s ethnicity has nothing to do with your impatience. I think she is doing an excellent job and I’m sure, if you give her the opportunity, she will give you the same level of service she has given me.”
    I’m not sure that my comment had much effect on the woman, since she huffed and turned on her heel and left the store, but it did have an effect on the other people in the store, especially the clerk. She had appeared upset (understandably) at the racist remark, but when she heard my response, she looked at me and said thank you. A few other of the patrons even took it upon themselves to apologize on behalf of the rude woman. This was the best possible outcome to what had happened, but please keep in mind, that this won’t always be the case. Sometimes, your successful confrontation will still fall on deaf ears. That’s okay, confrontation is more about your ability to handle yourself in difficult situations than it is about others. Yes, it can (and often is) a way that problems and misunderstandings can be resolved, but that doesn’t need to occur all the time for confrontation to be a good thing. Confrontation, at its heart, is about your ability to speak up for yourself.
    What about the things you shouldn’t confront? As mentioned above, you should never put your own safety in question solely for the sake of confrontation. It is okay to choose to walk away from situations that make you uncomfortable – even those situations that might deserve a confrontation. Sometimes, the actions of the person needing confrontation can even render you unable to act. In that situation, leaving is the right action. Even as a woman who is comfortable with confrontation, I still find myself in situations where I choose not to. Most often, it happens when I’m out in public, alone, and find myself the target of catcallers. These are men who suffer under the erroneous presumption that it is flattering to call out to a stranger on the street and “compliment” her on the basis of her physical appearance.
    Catcalling is not a compliment, it is an objectifying and uncomfortable situation to find yourself in. It is also an issue that deserves confrontation. However, the confrontation for catcalling will be most effective coming at a societal level, where attitudes and views can be changed on a larger scale. When alone, faced with the comments of multiple men, choosing to confront invites more comments, that often can take a turn to the derogatory, and even possibly physically aggressive behavior. Unlike the previous situation, being catcalled and confronting does not end up helping others, instead it can lead to more upset and even possible harm. This is the situation where you walk away.
    As you can see, confrontation can be a difficult subject to navigate, but it is a worthy skill to develop. Just as you took time of the last week to become more self-aware and to understand how you tend to handle conflict, this week take time to look for situations in your day to day life where you have the opportunity to confront people you don’t know. Also, identify situations where confrontation is not a good idea. As you become more confident in your ability to speak up for yourself, try speaking up to a stranger who deserves to be reminded of how we should treat each other as fellow human beings.
    If you have questions, comments, or if there are other topics you’d like to address in this series on confrontation, join in on the conversation below. We’d love to hear what you think about this issue.
    The image used in this post is from Stop Telling Women to Smile – an art series from artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. It highlights the issue of street harassment – a problem faced by women world wide.
    Speak Up
    «Part 1: Confrontation Isn’t a 4-Letter Word
    Part 3: Finding Your Voice at Work»

  • Speak Up
    Part 2: The Stranger on the Street»
    Part 3: Finding Your Voice at Work»

    Interpersonal relationships are a fact of life. We can’t avoid them and we can’t avoid the conflict they cause. However, we can work on how we handle conflict. As Geek Girls we are, more often than not, the minorities within the communities we are a part of. Therefore, it is practically impossible to avoid situations that require confrontation. We need to be able to speak up for ourselves when these situations do arise. Unfortunately, for most of us, confrontation is a scary word we like to avoid. It’s something that is negative and inevitably causes more conflict. This attitude can severely limit our abilities to accomplish great things, both personally and professionally.
    Confrontation is difficult, even for people who are good at it. No one wants to look at the face of someone they care for or respect and tell them that something they have done is wrong. No matter how many times I’ve done it, my heart still races every time. A few years ago I was living in Africa while attending the University of Botswana as an exchange student. It was a great experience because I had previously traveled in the country before and so had many friends there. Eventually, there came a point that I had to confront a close friend because she started borrowing money from me and not paying me back. From a purely objective point of view, I could understand why: I was the “rich” American and could afford to overlook a few hundred pula.

    The root of the problem was just that viewpoint. In purely financial terms, I was rich compared to most Batswana, but realistically, I was at the same socioeconomic status in America as they were in Botswana. I was an independent undergraduate student dependent on financial aid and so was my friend. I had more money than she did but I also had more obligations (and the bills at home didn’t stop just because I wasn’t there). In this situation I had a choice, overlook the money she owed me or confront her about it.

    I chose to do the latter, and it wasn’t a walk in the park. It put a strain on our relationship for some time, but in the end it gave us each a new understanding of the other. America was no longer a land of “milk and honey” to her and I was able to better understand why she had treated the borrowed money so causally. It gave us the confidence to be able to attack other cultural misunderstandings with each other more openly as they came up. If I had not made the decision to talk to her about an uncomfortable subject, I might have become bitter toward her and because of that lost a friendship that has withstood the tests of time and distance.
    As we begin this conversation, we first need to define what confrontation is and what it isn’t. Confrontation is when you confront, or bring up an issue, with another party. It is not an argument; it is a conversation with a specific purpose. Confrontation is a healthy way to deal with the problems that arise out of living in a world populated with other people.
    Before we are able to become effective at confrontation with others, we must first learn how to be effective at confronting ourselves. This is probably the hardest part of the equation. We must accept the places in our lives where we fail along with those places where we succeed. In order to handle confrontation successfully we must be able to bring ourselves into the conversation as honestly as possible. What I mean by this is that you must be upfront and open about your part in any conflict as well as your feelings about it. In order to be able to bring that honesty into a healthy confrontation you need to have a clear understanding of who you are.

    Take time over the next few weeks to take a good look at your life in the context of interpersonal relationships. What do you do well? Where do you stumble? Are you known in your circle for any particular skill such as being a good confidant or a good problem solver? Is there a certain kind of situation you find yourself in that constantly frustrates you? Also, think through some past situations you wish you could have handled better and think about what you would have done in hindsight. How could those situations could have been avoided had you spoken up sooner? I suggest making a few lists. If you journal, try going back through some old entries – they might give you some insight into the questions above.
    Speak Up is the category we’ll be using for posts at GGNO that tackle topics that need the voices of Geek Girls involved in the conversation; this series on confrontation is the first to be nestled under it. Over the next few posts in this series, we will focus on what it takes to succeed at confrontation and the different types of situations in which confrontation can be useful, whether at home, in the workplace, at school, or in public. Let us know in the comments below if you have any questions or if there’s any particular area of confrontation you’d like us to address.
    The photo included in this post was taken by the author in Botswana.
    Speak Up
    Part 2: The Stranger on the Street»
    Part 3: Finding Your Voice at Work»

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    “She had used “outcast”, but she wasn’t cast out at all, just different from those around her.”
    – CraftLass


    As a young girl, I never felt that I quite fit in with those around me. It was as if I was […]

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    I love your avatar!

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