In Part 1 of her interview last week, rocket scientist Natalie Panek talked to us about how she first discovered her interest for space and how her desire to pursue a career in aerospace technology was born out of that interest. She shares how her career led her to start working in robotics and how she hopes it will ultimately lead to the opportunity to travel to space firsthand.

 

In Part 2 of her interview, Panek discusses her passion for adventure and how her experience with rocket science and adventure has allowed her to see a convergence between the two. She goes on to talk about the start of her blog, The Panek Room. She talks about what inspired her to start blogging, how blogging has been an important tool in networking and building her presence in the science world, and how she hopes her blog will impact audiences.

 

Panek has a major passion for adventure, and chronicles her adventures on her blog. Here, Panek explores the dunefield  in Great Sand Dunes National Park (thepanekroom.com)

Panek has a major passion for adventure, and chronicles her adventures on her blog. Here, Panek explores the dunefield in Great Sand Dunes National Park (thepanekroom.com)

MUIPR: Beyond your work in engineering and technology, you also describe yourself as an adventurer. What is the significance, for you, of actually labeling yourself an adventurer? What does it mean for you to be an adventurer?

NATALIE PANEK: I love the idea that being an adventurer means storytelling. Adventure itself derives from the need to tell a story. There is something inherently attractive about listening to a good storyteller describe the adventures and science they have pursued. Storytelling through photographs is a significant aspect of my blog — whether backpacking the Akshayuk Pass in Canada’s Arctic, exploring Iceland, or hiking in the Grand Tetons, for example. To be an adventurer means believing in one’s self, mastering both hesitation and self-doubt to lead and succeed. I thrive on the moments when I step outside of the known and the bounds of my comfort zone and into the world of creativity, discovery, and innovation.

 

MUIPR: Is there a point at which you believe your work in rocket science and your adventures converge, or do you see them both as separate albeit equally important parts of your life?

PANEK: Rocket science and adventure absolutely converge. The common thread is the ability to push limits and explore beyond boundaries. Since the beginning of time, humans have been drawn to exploration. The first ascent of Mount Everest by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary in 1953, Sir Ernest Shackleton’s many expeditions to the Antarctic in the early 1900’s, or ultimately landing a man on the moon [all prove] this. [Humanity is] exploring within the boundaries of Earth [and] beyond. Science and exploration both navigate unchartered territory because of curiosity, and often innovation is born out of that curiosity.

 

For Panek, adventure and rocket science share the common element of pushing limits and exploring beyond boundaries (thepanekroom.com).

For Panek, adventure and rocket science share the common element of pushing limits and exploring beyond boundaries (thepanekroom.com).

MUIPR: You also have your own website, The Panek Room, where you chronicle your work, adventures, news on women in science, and tips on finding opportunities for scientific exploration all around us. When was it in the course of your career that you started considering creating the site, and what inspired you to do so?

PANEK: The idea to start a website was born out of an impulse. I was at a point in my career where I was not entirely fulfilled and just felt that I could be doing more. [I thought that] sharing my stories could inspire a generation of young women. I knew very little about blogging, science communication, or running a website. It has been a great learning experience. This coupled with diving into the world of social media and connecting with a range of people whom are positively changing the world has been remarkable. I try to post photographs as much as possible on my blog because an image can spark the imagination in an instant. That little spark is all you need to open your mind to a world of possibilities!

 

MUIPR: What did you hope to accomplish by launching The Panek Room? Who do you consider your target audience to be?

PANEK: The Panek Room is simply about curiosity and a willingness to embrace new experiences or opportunities. I want youth, especially young women, to see the range of STEM careers that exist. I want young women to believe that they can do anything, even pursue a non-traditional career. But the target audience is literally everyone — young women, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers. We need champions for women in science and engineering, and hopefully my blog, adventures, or even Saturday Science Sessions will inspire others.

 

In the third and final part of her interview next week, Panek delves deeper into the topic of women in STEM. She shares her own experiences as a woman working in a male-dominated field, including a discussion of the importance of the media in giving female role models in STEM more of a public presence.

 

If you are a woman working in STEM and are interested in being featured in our ‘Women Leaders in STEM’ series, shoot us an email at blog.muipr@gmail.com or tweet me @tamarahoumi