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Stanford University School of Medicine

Career advice for kids from Stanford Medicine alumna and astronaut Kate Rubins

Getting a PhD in cancer biology may not seem like a step towards becoming an astronaut, but for Stanford Medicine alumna Kate Rubins, PhD, a NASA astronaut who spent time in space, it worked out quite well. In a recent video interview, Rubins shared the story behind her unconventional educational path and offered career advice to kids who are just beginning to dream about what they'll do when they grow up.

As a kid "I wanted to be an astronaut, a biologist and a geologist," Rubins said. "I thought you could do all of those three careers at the same time."
As an adult, Rubins wondered if her "silly" (to use her word) idea was actually possible. She earned an undergraduate degree in biology. Then she gained additional expertise, and a PhD, at Stanford Medicine by studying viruses and how they interact with the immune system.
At a recent presentation at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Rubins urged middle schoolers to begin planning for their futures.

"Start thinking about the subjects that you like the most, what's really fun for you," Rubins said. Classes where "you don't get too upset about doing homework" are especially important, Rubins added. "If you find a school project that's really exciting... pay attention to that because that's something that you might want to do as a career."

She also offered some general words of wisdom to young people: "No matter what field you're doing you want to be able to talk to other people about that field... [At NASA], it's really important for us to come back after we fly into space and tell people about the discoveries that we're making on the Space Station."

Being an expert in your field doesn't excuse you from sharing your work with others, Rubins explained. "You can be a really good science experimentalist but you also have to be able to communicate your results and your discoveries people."

Don't shy away from failure, she said. "As a scientist and a researcher you actually have a lot more failures in your experiments than you have success... that's the process of science."

Failures are an opportunity to uncover something you didn't expect, Rubins explained. "Sometimes when experiments are failing we actually learn a lot of new and interesting things. So when you're failing in a scientific investigation, sometimes you're actually succeeding more than you would think because you can learn something new."

Previously: Greetings from space: A Q&A with astronaut and Stanford alumna Kate Rubins and NASA videos highlight using omics to study what happens to a body in space
Video courtesy of Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

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