(Write-up by Kyle Rogers)
Julie Mitchell is a graduate student at Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE). She’s looking for water on the Moon and Mars using radar data, thermal images, and images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Julie grew up on the Louisiana bayou, spending her childhood tracking down turtles with her siblings and teaching herself the constellations. The natural world was part of her life from early on so it was instinctive to be curious about the world. Although there was a never a push for her or any of her siblings to go to college, an older sister attended college and encouraged her to go. Earning an undergraduate degree in geology and aerospace engineering from the University of Texas (UT) at Austin, Julie began working at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston right after graduating. After working on the water recycling system for NASA, she decided she wanted to look for water elsewhere in the solar system so she decided to apply to the PhD program at ASU, and was accepted. Her current research focuses around salt deposits on Mars that tend to occur in topographic lows and give off unique thermal signatures.
Julie recalls attending an engineering class at UT Austin and noticing that in a class of sixty to seventy students there was a ten to one ratio of men to women. When asked about women in science, Julie says, “There are unique challenges that women can face. It can be difficult. You get people from older generations that will make comments…finding that middle ground and to be able to say ‘hey look, that’s inappropriate.’ I’ve had a lot of trial and error trying to figure that out.” She doesn’t think there are many female role models in science out there but she does believe there are more and more, especially in SESE. “I hope for the next generation of women coming up, that they can have more role models because it was definitely something I noticed.” She goes on to say, “I’m half-Hispanic…it would be awesome to see more and more women of color, and more and more faculty of either gender, because I don’t think there’s very good representation there.” As for advice for women interested in pursuing science and for anyone in general: “The first thing I would say is “Know yourself.” The more you know yourself and the more honest with yourself about what you like and what you don’t like, the better the decision you will make with your career.” When Julie finishes her PhD at ASU she will return to NASA, working in their planetary science group.