SIRTF Profiles: Deborah Levine
Task Lead: Science Operations Teams
I'm one of those astronomers who has followed a "non-traditional" career path. While I was always interested in science, spending many summers at the Science Center in my hometown of Clearwater, FL, I was also always interested in writing, in horses, in psychology, in theater... you name it. I took an intensive career planning workshop as a senior in high school and the advice they gave me at the end was "go to a good liberal arts school."
At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill I procrastinated until the last minute when declaring a major and eventually declared the class I was enjoying the most that semester -- which happened to be Physics. So I got both a BS and later an MS in Physics, but
discovered while pursuing the Ph.D.that it takes a little more than "I kind of like this stuff" to get through a dissertation! So I worked for a couple of years as an Infrared Engineer at Boeing in Seattle, then came to IPAC in 1989 to take on a job supporting astronomers in the usage of data from IRAS (the InfraRed Astronomical Satellite) with the dubious job title of "Superfriend"!
After a year and a bit of helping astronomers do their research I
decided that I really wanted my own "license to practice astronomy" and I entered the graduate program in Astronomy at UCLA, continuing to work 20-40 hours a week at IPAC. I received my Ph.D. in Astronomy from UCLA in 1995. For my dissertation I studied water masers near the center of our galaxy, which tells us about how stars and gas are moving around in that area, which gives us some good clues as to what our galaxy looks like from the outside.
Almost immediately after I finishd my defense, I flew to Spain to
become the US Liaison Astronomer for the Infrared Space Observatory (ISO), which was an earth-orbiting infrared telescope much like SIRTF. There I discovered what I am really good at -- figuring out how the puzzle of science operations for an observatory fits together! I actually enjoy figuring out how all the different teams which are needed to run science operations for an observatory need to work together, so that everything that needs to get done, gets done, and that both the needs of the science instrument teams and the needs of the astronomers who will use the observatory are met. In Spain I had a wonderful opportunity to indulge my curiosity and desire to serve the needs of the astronomical community, and to jump in here and there and learn as much as possible about the hows and whys of how the ISO Science Operations Center worked. I have been able to bring that knowledge back to the SSC and apply it to SIRTF. Unfortunately, I haven't gotten much research done since...
At the SSC, I am the Lead for the four Science Operations Teams. The Observatory Planning and Scheduling Team will schedule each week of activities that SIRTF will carry out when we are in normal
operations. The Pipeline Operations Team will keep the pipelines
running to process the science data. The Data Quality Analysis Team will make sure that the science data we send to astronomers and put in our archive are of good quality. Finally, the Database
Administration Team will tale care of our central database. I also do overall coordination of how all these teams interact with one another and with the other operations teams at SSC, at JPL and at Lockheed-Martin in Denver.
When I'm not doing all of that, I can often be found next door to JPL at the Flintridge Riding Club. My horse Clifton Smint lives there, and we compete in dressage and eventing from time to time. I also am a volunteer, soon to be come a certified instructor, for a
therapeutic riding program located at the club. MACH 1 (Move a Child Higher) provides hippotherapy and riding instruction for children with a wide variety of mental, social and physical disabilities. I find that working with these children, who are exactly who they are without pretension and who take the world very much as it comes, helps to keep me focused on what is really important in life and what comes down to the "small stuff." And besides that, it's fun!