A Day in the Life of A Student Intern: Megan
5:25 am - The alarm clock blares in my ear. It is really early, but each day it gets easier and easier to get up, as our bodies adjust to the early hour.
6:00 am - We grab our stuff, run out the door of our hotel room, and hurry to the lobby to meet all the other interns and mentors to drive to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
6:30 am - We park in the already over-filled parking lot at JPL, get checked in and get our badges. Then we make a quick stop to get some muffins and coffee for breakfast. Without a minute to spare, we go up the hill to mission operations. They lock the doors at 7:00 a.m., so we have to be prompt. There, we meet up with all the scientists, engineers, and coordinators for the FIDO field tests.
7:00 am - The Science Operations Working Group (SOWG) Chair calls the first meeting of the day, the Uplink Sequence Review. Everyone runs into the meeting room in order to get a chair - otherwise, you get to sit on the floor, which is NOT fun if you're in a skirt, believe me. The SOWG Chair announces who is doing what for the sol (we are simulating two sols, or Martian days, per Earth day), gives suggestions for the different theme groups, and reviews what to expect for the incoming data from the last sol. It's always interesting to see the SOWG Chair at work, seeing how he or she interacts with the other scientists and organizes the meetings.
7:15 am - The first meeting ends, and we all go to work. Each intern has a specific task they are working on or a mentor they are helping. Some of us are making spreadsheets relating the commands we sent to the rover (uplink data) and what it actually did (downlink data). Others are making large posters of donut-shaped 360-degree images that the rover took with the supporting information. Still others are working on the web site, working with data from the Infrared Point Spectrometer, labeling targets on panorama posters, and observing the scientists as they work. We only have half an hour to work before the next meeting, so we have to be efficient and work quickly.
7:45 am - Back to the second meeting of the day, the Science Assessment Meeting. This one involves looking at the data and using it to decide what to do next. More sitting, listening, and diligently taking notes for fifteen minutes.
8:15 am - Yet another meeting begins, this one lasting for a full forty-five minutes. This one is the SOWG meeting, in which each of the science teams give priorities of what they want to do during the upcoming sol. As someone who often finds that much of the "science speak" is like a foreign language (although I understand more and more each day), I've discovered that it is a smart idea to sit as close to the main scientists as possible so I can catch as much as possible. The farther I get from the main table, the less I see and hear, and the easier it is to stop paying attention for a minute and then be really lost
10:15 am - What a surprise - another meeting! This one is supposed to only last fifteen minutes, but it almost always goes over. During this meeting, the team reviews how well the rover executed its commands. At this point in the day, all I want is food, food, food. Most of us are still slightly jet-lagged, and it's past lunchtime back home.
11:00 am - Finally the SOWG Chair announces that we are dismissed for lunch, and off we go, down the stairs and to the JPL cafeteria. There is so much to choose from, and the food is actually quite impressive for a cafeteria. We whisk out the side door to sit at a table in the sunshine. Considering we are in two rooms all day long, both without any windows, being outside feels absolutely wonderful. Forty-five minutes later, we finish up and head back up a really long flight of stairs leading back up the hill to building 82 to get back to work.
12:15 pm - A new sol begins and there is, of course, a meeting to start it off: the Uplink Sequence Review for this sol. I'm more relaxed since I've just had an hour-long break to fill my empty stomach, have had a non-science conversation (well, sometimes we can't help it and just talk about science all through lunch), and saw some sun. Fifteen minutes later, it's back to work on whatever task we have for the afternoon.
1:00 pm - Time to sit in on the fifteen-minute Science Assessment Meeting and then squeeze in another fifteen minutes of work.
1:30 pm - The SOWG Chair forty-five minute meeting.
2:15 pm - Time to work as quickly as possible to finish up whatever we are working on for the afternoon. It's crunch time!
3:45 pm - The final meeting of the day. It's supposed to be over by 4:30, but we're lucky if it ends by 5:30 or 6:00 because there is so much to discuss. The Chair leads a discussion reviewing what the day held and how everyone handled their tasks. There are a lot of graphs presented and detailed discussions.
5:30 pm - Ah, a long, rewarding day is over. We pack up all our laptops and paperwork and walk across the grounds of JPL back to the van. We collapse in the car seats, tired but content with all that we have accomplished during the day. It's back to the hotel for a quick shower and five-minute catnap before it's time to go to dinner.
6:30 pm - Good food. This is one of the best parts of the day. Life is good when you get to work hard all day right alongside with the smartest and best scientists and engineers in their fields, create helpful data products, and then sit back and revel in all that you have done over some good food with the rest of your team and co-workers. Usually dinner here in Pasadena is a two-hour affair, but nobody seems to mind. Each night, different scientists and people who work on the field tests come to dinner with us. This is a great opportunity to talk one-on-one with the people who run it all. At first, I was worried that they would be unapproachable and hard to talk to, but every single person I've talked with has been extremely nice and more than willing to answer my questions. These interactions have greatly enhanced my time at JPL, because they have made me feel much less intimidated and comfortable being in the middle of it all. Suddenly, those scary, super-smart looking scientists at the head of the table are just funny, down-to-earth (but still super-smart) people who are quite sociable and friendly.
9:00 pm - We're back at the hotel for the night, and it feels great to be "home" and crawl into bed. It's been a great day, and the best part is we get to do the whole thing again tomorrow!