I am Arts & Sciences: Christina Richey, Ph.D.

Physics alumna Christina Richey, Ph.D., is a planetary scientist and astrophysicist with the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology.
Christina Richey

Christina Richey, Ph.D., is a planetary scientist and astrophysicist with the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. She first came to UAB as a junior from Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia as a participant in the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. Her experience in that program led her to pursue both her master's and doctoral degrees in physics here at UAB. Richey left Birmingham in 2011 and has built a successful career in the competitive, mostly-male, field of planetary sciences.

We profiled Richey in the Spring 2018 issue of Arts & Sciences magazine. Read an excerpt from our interview with her below or read the entire feature article "Stellar."

On why she chose UAB: "I found out about the REU program at UAB my junior year, and so I came to Birmingham and I just fell in love with UAB and the physics department… I was doing graduate-level research for an entire summer."

On her experience in the Department of Physics: "The general community in the physics department was just fantastic; everyone was really supportive. Right from the beginning of my graduate work, I knew I would do well; it was just the right environment. Dr. [Ryoichi] Kawai was a huge influence on me, and so was Dr. [Renato] Camata, who had a big service aspect to his worldview, and that was so important to me coming from a Jesuit school."

On how she almost missed her window to finding her dream job with NASA: "I had told my advisor at UAB that I wanted to be at [NASA] headquarters in 20 years, but when a funding situation almost shortened my post-doc position [at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center], I realized the job opportunities were becoming really slim, really quick. I had missed all of the Congressional deadlines, and I just went to my car and cried. But the next day, I started looking at contractors working with NASA, and I ended up as a contract program officer with Smart Data Solutions, and then with Arctic Slope. Basically, I went from thinking I was going to be unemployed to jumping ahead about 20 years in my career."

On her advocacy for female scientists in a field notorious for harassment and abuse: "We're making progress. We have to allow the system to fill with diversity. We have to welcome these young people into the sciences who are coming in with their eyes open. They're less tolerant than we were; they're getting proper harassment and bystander training. And that's occurring more now because more women are in positions of power. Too many times I'm the only woman in a room, or my black colleague is the only non-white person in the room. But that game is changing now and it needs to continue to improve."

Continue reading "Stellar."

Read more "I am Arts & Sciences" alumni profiles:
Sarah Randolph of Birmingham Audubon
Dr. Johnny E. "Rusty" Bates

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