FEEDBACK Early Career Scientist Spotlight - Carina Alden

Early Career Scientist Spotlight

Carina Alden (she/her)

Space Weather Analyst
Space Weather Laboratory (674)

What does your job at NASA entail?

My job is probably one of the coolest (or hottest 😉) ones out there! My job is to monitor the Sun for events that may have an impact on planets, NASA missions, and astronauts. As part of the Moon to Mars Space Weather Analysis Office, I monitor solar activity and analyze any space weather impacts that the Sun may cause across the solar system in support of NASA deep space human and robotic missions. This includes measuring coronal mass ejections (CMEs), sending out analysis to NASA users about different space weather events like radiation belt enhancements (RBE) and solar energetic proton events (SEPs), and making sure to enter all of the details into an online searchable catalog for the benefit of the heliophysics research community. When I’m not analyzing real-time data, I am educating myself about the models we use day-to-day as well as putting together reports about recent activity. Along with the analysis side of things, I’ve been fortunate enough to participate in educational outreach opportunities including visiting schools both virtually and in person to talk about space weather and why it’s important to know about it!

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What a quiet day at work might look like as a Space Weather Analyst
Credit: Carina Alden

What do you enjoy the most about your job?

I love that my job gives me the opportunity to communicate science to the public on a daily basis. I’ve become much more comfortable with public speaking and I’m learning a lot while working in the field day-to-day, probably more than I think I would’ve learned if I had only listened to lectures. The other thing I absolutely love about the communication aspect of my job is that I am always encouraged to share my knowledge in any way I can, including going to schools for visits and giving presentations about what I do, to inspire younger minds.

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Networking with others in the field of Space Weather at the Space Weather Workshop in Boulder, CO. (Left to right: Mike Cook [currently at NASA JSC], Sara Housseal [currently at the 557th Weather Wing], Carina Alden [currently at NASA GSFC])
Credit: Carina Alden

Did you always know that you wanted to be a Space Weather Analyst?

As a little girl, I always loved the night sky. I wanted to be an Astronomer my whole life, but when it came time to go to college, I ended up going into Atmospheric Sciences and truth be told, I hated it, haha! But, if I hadn’t taken that wrong turn into a field that was only somewhat interesting to me, I wouldn’t have found the field I’ve made a home in now. So, did I always know I wanted to be a Space Weather Analyst/Scientist? Not at all. I knew my heart was with the stars, but I just didn’t realize it would be the one closest to us that would fulfill my dreams.

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Found a very fitting mural in Nashville, TN
Credit: brandonsmith_photowx

How did you end up working at NASA Goddard?

Would you believe it if I said it all started because of Twitter? During my undergraduate years, I had spent four summers doing research in the realm of Heliophysics, two of which were spent at NASA Goddard. Outside of the summer fun, I spent a lot of time networking within the field either at conferences or on Twitter to gain knowledge from those within the Space Weather community, with the hopes of finding an open door to fully join the community myself. One day, I ended up getting messages on Twitter from two of the people I had networked with and they asked me if I was still interested in a position in the field of Space Weather. Well of course I was! It’s always been a dream of mine to work in a field involving space! And before I knew it, I was being interviewed by the team that I am now very proud to be a part of. I couldn’t be more thankful for that open door thanks to the power of Twitter and networking!

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Theater was my get away during college! From top left to bottom right: Sweeney Todd, Heathers, Hair, The Great Gatsby, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (two images), The Man Who Came to Dinner, and Much Ado About Nothing!
Credit: Lyndon State Twilight Players

Are you involved in any upcoming space missions?

Yes! The team I am on (the Moon to Mars Space Weather Analysis Office) was formed to help with the NASA Artemis Missions! My day-to-day also consists of keeping NASA missions up to date on potential impacts from space weather!

What was your first big research achievement?

Despite my current job not being as involved in research as most scientists here at Goddard, my summer internships provided me the opportunity to explore that side of science. Specifically, for my second summer internship, which was a Research Experience for Undergraduates at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), I had the amazing opportunity to get to learn about the science writing process and I ended up having my summer work published in the paper that my advisor was the head author on. I then presented that summer research at multiple conferences, including the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting (2016), the American Meteorological Society’s Annual Meeting (2017), and the Annual Northeastern Storm Conference (2017). This was the summer internship experience that solidified that I wanted to go into this field for good.

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Presenting at the end of summer symposium at NASA GSFC during my last summer internship! And of course, I had to go with the Ms. Frizzle inspired dress <3
Credit: Carina Alden

What do you like to do in your free time?

There’s a lot I enjoy doing in my free time! Recently, I started streaming on Twitch. Occasionally I talk about the Sun and what’s been going on with it if my viewers ask, but sometimes I stream games like Apex, Warzone, Fall Guys, Kena: Bridge of Spirits, and Among Us. I also enjoy doing photography (lately it’s been a lot of pictures of my cats haha), theater, dance, playing tennis, working on my bullet journal, or going out to enjoy nature in any way I can!

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Christmas card with my furbabies Eclipse and Salem
Credit: Carina Alden

What advice would you give your younger self?

Never. Ever. Give up. There will always be something that could stop you from trying, but if you want it bad enough, your passion will get you through the tough times. Follow your dreams and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Use that to fuel you and prove them wrong! Also, it’s okay to ask for help, so please do.

Biography

Home Town:
Sandisfield, MA

Undergraduate Degree:
B.A. Applied Mathematics, Lyndon State College, Lyndonville, VT


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Link to Carina Alden's GSFC Bio


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