Reaching for the Stars (With JPL)

Halfway into finals week of last semester, the time of the semester where most Oxy students live in the library and lose motivation, I was lucky enough to get a little beacon of hope to keep going.

I received an email that my interview from earlier that week had gone well and I was offered a position as a student independent research intern (SIRI) at the Jet Propulsion Lab! I certainly wasn’t as enthusiastic as I would have been due to the usual sleep deprivation and mental exhaustion that comes with finals, but nevertheless, I was super hyped to start the spring semester.

When first applying to SIRI, I wasn't completely sure what I was getting into. Occidental’s Career Center (the HCC) sent out an email regarding the opportunity and explained that it was a semester long internship where students work on a particular project for 10-15 hours a week and receive school credit for it. As I took a look at the specific projects one could apply for, I remember saying "ooooo" out loud when I saw the "Improving the Deep Space Network Operations" opportunity. Unlike the others, the description did not say much about what interns would be working on, but did have keywords like "human-computer interaction" (HCI) and "user experience/user interface" (UX/UI). I was hooked. I’ve always been interested in tech and took an interest in computer science at the end of high school; this SIRI project sounded like the perfect excuse to try a couple of new things that were geared towards these interests. So here I am now!

Currently, I’m on my third week of this internship and things have gone great! I was assigned my project which is—long story short—analyzing current alarm system designs for the Deep Space Network (DSN) operating facilities and developing potential new prototypes for future designs. The project itself is mostly user experience research based, meaning that I essentially have to understand how people who operate these systems interact with the alarms and try to come up with ways to make them more efficient and intuitive. There’s been a lot of reading and note-taking so far. I am planning to go on various field observations, like going out to Goldstone Deep Space Communication Complex to see "operators in the wild," and interviewing various ex-operators at JPL on how they recall their experiences with these technologies.

Aside from the project, the atmosphere of JPL was not what I expected it to be at all. The DSN design team is super collaborative and punny; we use Slack for communications within the team/JPL and emoji usage between JPLers is surprisingly high. I have a designated workspace in a oversized communal cubicle shared with other DSN design team members, however most mornings, the Mars 2020 design team take over the space and I migrate to work outside (100% not complaining, more like 100% honored and think this is the coolest thing ever). Overall, the JPL experience has been a welcoming one and can’t wait to see what’s next!

Editors Note: This post is part of an on-going series about the JPL internship program.