Journal of a NASA Intern Part 1: Grief, Joy, and DEVELOP

Pictured: My grandfather in the top left and my grandmother beside him.

It was precisely 2 years, 4 months, and 2 days ago that I lost one of the most important people in my life. I think most people talk about their grandfather that way, and I don’t purport to be a special case in the grand scheme of human suffering, but he was the special case in human excellence. A pianist since he could properly move his hands, he’d dedicated his life to the mastery of jazz piano. A childhood filled with toys (of which he spoiled me rotten) would never compare to the year he performed a jazzy rendition of the Birthday Song for me.

Yes, I cried.

But so much more than a brilliant musician, he was also a brilliant human. He was just as likely to give you a sharp line about the pursuit of intellectualism as he was to make a bad pun. (And yes, there were many bad puns.)

Above all else, he valued thought. He valued reflection and thinking about the world without bias. I was getting lost in his library as a little girl, reading old chemistry textbooks and pretending I knew so much more than I did. And when the solar eclipse of August 21, 2017 rolled around, he and the rest of the family packed up to travel to middle-of-nowhere Illinois so that we could marvel at the wonders of the natural world, and beyond.

856 days gone, and I still think I see him sitting in his favorite chair when I walk into the living room.

I know you’re here to learn about NASA internships, but the backstory here is important, because I never fashioned myself a real scientist and I certainly never fashioned myself as “NASA potential”. But when I happened to see a newsletter from my school mentioning NASA’s DEVELOP program, I thought about how it would be a disservice to my grandfather not to seek out new horizons and dedicate myself to the pursuit of knowledge. It was in his honor that I applied to DEVELOP, and when I got my acceptance email, my very first thought was that I knew he would have been proud.

[The writer pauses here to go wipe her eyes and blow her nose.]

Now, as I enter my third term of the DEVELOP program as well as my first term as a NASA intern proper, I have a little bit more faith in my ability to do good work for this company that has meant so much to me, to my family, and to my grandfather.

Dale Kriner, 1950-2019

Tip #1: Go with the path that feels right, even if it’s a long shot. Especially if it’s a long shot.

I went into NASA with very little concrete technical skill, and honestly, not a whole lot of concrete scientific knowledge, either. I applied for a project that just so happened to be everything I was passionate about: human-wildlife conflict in Southern Africa. I sold myself on pretty much passion alone; I told my interviewer that this was the cause to which I was ready to devote my life. I told her I was willing to learn whatever I needed to do my best work.

I’m sure some other things helped, too. I did have SOME background in GIS, and I had a strong internship just prior that used ArcGIS to map whooping crane migrations, which overlapped technically with this project mapping elephant movements. Beyond that, I have a really strong background in project management, with impressive figures to match. I tell people that 90% of my NASA experience came down to luck, and while I do think there’s a lot of truth to that, it also does me a disservice to pretend like I had nothing valuable to offer going into the program.

Tip #2: Be honest with yourself about strengths, as well as potential areas of growth.

Especially if you’re choosing to follow in my footsteps and apply for DEVELOP, it’s important to be honest about what you bring, as well as what you can gain. The program is aptly named; they seek out people who they feel have something left to learn. Show them that you are capable, and express that you are excited. That would be my “magic recipe” for earning a spot in the DEVELOP program. Well, that and an interest in remote sensing.

People ask me often how I ended up at NASA when I’m not studying aeronautics or engineering; DEVELOP is the answer. There are several NASA internships that focus on communications or project management or any other host of non-technical job descriptions for physics-phobic students. However, I don’t think I would have stood a chance at getting these internships without the 20 weeks I spent with DEVELOP. Not only did it bolster my technical ability and sharpen my soft skills, but it also gave me a unique confidence when interviewing with NASA personnel. I had already worked with, laughed with, and even impressed their colleagues. DEVELOP was the critical component of helping me overcome imposter syndrome.


There will be more blog posts to come and they will include more tips and tricks for landing an internship at NASA, so be sure to follow along, especially if you want to learn more about what I’m doing for NASA this fall and how my internship progresses this term.

Published by Erica Kriner

Enterprising and enthusiastic student with superior skills in leadership, research and organization. Eager to bring value to my employer through hard work and commitment to precision. Offering demonstrated success in self-driven research through a strong history of quality results.

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