Bronco Spotlight: Katrina Koehler

Bronco Spotlight: Katrina Koehler

Ph.D. in physics, 2019

Scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory 

I am a scientist at a national lab, working in a group that focuses on nuclear nonproliferation and safeguards. I develop new technologies and algorithms that support the international organization, International Atomic Energy Agency, in their mission to safeguard all the nuclear material in the world and ensure that it is used for only peaceful purposes, i.e. no material is diverted to create a secret nuclear weapons program! 

What is the most rewarding and the most challenging part of your job?

I love that my scientific work is relevant right now to the political landscape and makes possible treaties and other agreements between state actors that affect world order! I'm often frustrated that political decisions and commentary on these topics are often made by individuals uninformed about the technical aspects of the field, but I have high hopes that this will change as more people going into science recognize the importance of communication about their research to the general audience! I particularly love the challenges associated with analyzing data and turning raw data into meaningful conclusions about the material being studied. 

Which of your skills had the biggest impact on your success? 

Programming! Take a programming course...or more! It is a universally applicable skill. The programming course I just tacked on to my schedule in my senior year of college changed my life! It taught me to think in different ways. It gave me skills I use every day. It gave me a basis for every other language I have learned since then on my own, and it gave me the opportunity to show up a bunch of guys and remind them that girls are no less competent in computer science. 

What advice do you have for others pursuing a career similar to yours? 

Work on projects because you like to work with the people, not because the research is somehow cool. All research is cool, but some people can make your life really miserable, so stay away from them! On the flip side, some people are a pure pleasure to work with and can spur you on to better things. You want to have these people on your side. This applies for your choice of grad school, your choice of career, and your choice of teammates!

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