An Interview with Patricia du Foss Lock

The following is a written transcript of an interview with Patricia du Fossé Lock, conducted by the Outreach team at Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL). At the time of this interview (October, 2007), Patricia was the EEIS Engineer for the Dawn Mission —; she is currently working as a senior system engineer in End-to-End Information System Engineering (EEIS) on NASA's GRAIL lunar mission
Patricia du Fosse Lock

Where do you work? And, what do you find most interesting about working there?

PL: I work in Project System Engineering. I love that I get to see into all of the systems and subsystems. I solve one-of-a-kind interesting technical problems that affect multiple systems or organizations.

What is your role in the Dawn mission?:

PL: I am the End-to-End Information System Engineer. That means I make sure that data (commands) to be uplinked can get from the scientist's head to the ground system, to the spacecraft and to the instrument. Then, I make sure the data from the science observations make it all the way back to the scientist's desk. I have a lot of help in this, but I have the overall purview to make sure we build a system that can do this. I'm also the lead for testing the overall end-to-end system.

Which engineering team are you a member of and what is your role on that team? What is your team's role in the Dawn mission?

PL: I'm a member of the Project Engineering Team. This team is made up of system engineers from all of the systems and subsystems, plus a few like me who work at a higher, cross-system level.

What is your everyday work life like?

PL: I go to meetings, write test plans and reports, and talk to people about issues. Early on in a project, it is my job to learn all I can about each subsystem and software set involved in the end-to-end information system. I work part time, so my hours are unusual. I come in Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and am on call on Mondays and Wednesdays.

What are some of the challenges that accompany your job with the Dawn mission?

PL: Sometimes it is keeping my patience when disagreements occur. More often it is keeping up with the workload so my work does not negatively affect someone else's. Dawn is a technically interesting project, so that brings its own challenges. Those are the fun ones, though.

Can you share one of the unique aspects of the Dawn mission that fascinates you most?

PL: The asteroids themselves really fascinate me. We're going to bodies we've never seen before and not just one, but two!

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

PL: At first I wanted to be an archaeologist, later on a physical therapist. In high school, I was good in math & science, so I thought about engineering. I decided to become an engineer in part because my counselor said girls couldn't be engineers!

At what point did you determine that you would pursue a career in space science? Tell about the path that led you to this field.

PL: When I decided to study engineering, there was no question of what kind - I was an Apollo and Star Trek era kid so it had to be space. I also wanted to write about space so people could understand why we need to be out there. I do that now too; writing articles for kids' magazines, and have a science fiction young-adult novel in progress

Who inspired you?

PL:The Apollo astronauts inspired me, as did the first class of women astronauts for the Space Shuttle (1977 or 78). My father inspired me because he went to night school for 9 years to get his bachelors degree in engineering. I was 6 when he graduated. Science fiction authors too numerous to name inspired me as well.

What subjects were you interested in as a young student?

PL: I liked everything except chemistry and social studies. Now I love to read history so maybe it was just the teaching methods then that caused history to be so deadly dull.

What was your favorite book as a child and why?

PL: I had many favorites. One that sticks in my mind is The Witch of Blackbird Pond. The main character has to move from free-and-easy Barbados to the New England of the witch trials period. She really was a stranger in a strange land. I moved a lot as a kid and strongly identified with her challenges. Because I write for teens now, I read a lot in that age group. My new favorites are An Abundance of Katherines by John Green and anything by Tamora Pierce.

What advice would you give to aspiring engineers or scientists?

PL: Mostly to just keep at it. Work hard in high school but don't overdo it - have fun too. There's always someone saying you can't or shouldn't try something difficult, but if you want to, go ahead and don't give up. We talk about college at our house a lot now (I have 2 sons, ages 15 and 16) and we've learned that it is harder to get into many colleges as a freshman than it is as a transfer student later. So, if at first you don't get in, try again a year or two later….or get a bachelors degree at one school and a masters at another….or make up a new solution entirely. Everything changes so just keep trying and you'll get to where you want to be eventually. Sometimes where you want to be changes too!

What are your leisure time activities?

PL: I read a ton. I love to travel and want to travel more. We like camping as a family. I am the webmaster and yahoo group moderator for the Pasadena chapter of CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder). Sometimes I sleep.

Do you have a yet-to-be-achieved life goal?

PL: I want to publish a book I am proud of.

- Back to Team Interviews & Features