Rachel Mastrapa

Research Scientist - SETI Institute

Where are you from?

I'm not from anywhere in particular because my father was an engineer who built power plants, so we moved from job to job. I was born in Chicago, Ill., but I have lived in Washington State, North Carolina, Tehran and Florida.

Describe the first time you made a personal connection with outer space.

I remember watching "3-2-1 Contact" on television and there was an episode that was all about space, including how astronauts live and work on the Space Shuttle. For a while I wanted to be an astronaut, but then I realized I was more interested in science.

How did you end up working in the space program?

I started school as an astronomer, but I was also interested in geology. This led me to study planetary science. Now, I do research that helps us to understand what is on icy objects that are in the outer solar system.

Who inspired you?

I don't have any specific role models, but I have to give my parents credit for helping me start my career in science. My father helped build my presentations and my mother drove me to many science fairs. They never questioned my choice of science as a career and they supported all of my decisions.

What is a Research Scientist?

A research scientist is someone that thinks of interesting science questions and then tries to answer them. At the moment, I am doing experiments to figure out if we can tell whether ices of different compositions are mixed together or are separated on the moons of the giant planets. If we can figure out what the mixing is like, we may be able to understand where the ices came from.

Tell us about a favorite moment so far in your career.

I was very proud when I sent my family a copy of my dissertation about water ice. My parents were very proud of my accomplishment too.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to take the same career path as you?

If you want to be a research scientist then you need to really enjoy doing research. To figure out whether it is for you, be sure to sign up for internships as a student where you can get experience with hands-on research.

What do you do for fun?

I have two children, and I like to play with them. I also like traveling, hiking, dancing and reading.

If you were talking to a student interested in science and math or engineering, what advice would you give them?

Work hard in your classes. Ask your teacher questions when you don't understand something. Have confidence in your skills: Science and math are part natural gifts and part practice. You don't have to be a genius to be successful. Be sure that this is the sort of work that you want to do and that you like it very much so that you will be happy in your career.

Where are they from?

Planetary science is a global profession.