Meet the Born Seekers: Q&A with Aprille Ericsson
We recently sat down with aerospace engineer, Dr. Aprille Joy Ericsson, as part of our Born Seekers campaign. Ericsson encourages women to love what they do and to do it with fortitude and confidence.
Q: When did you fall in love with the idea of becoming a scientist?
When did I actually fall in love with space and science? I would say I got the bug in first grade. I got to see men go to the moon on TV. And then, I built my first instrument and won an eighth-grade science fair competition. And then, when I really figured out aerospace engineering was when I went to a summer program at MIT as a junior in high school.
Q: Tell us about the work you are currently doing.
I build instruments. I actually lead teams now. I used to do what we call “attitude control systems engineering” which means you control the spacecraft’s motion and position in space. Then I transitioned into more of the science aspect and helping scientists develop instruments for spacecraft like satellites. So I think of cool stuff like black holes. I call that “sexy science”.
Q: In your previous or current work, what boundaries are you pushing?
All of the boundaries we push are really on all fronts. It could be the spacecraft mission. How do we control that satellite? So how do we make measurements? One of the areas I have expertise in is laser altimetry. And so, we never do anything twice. We may use the same type of instrument, but we are always making it better and more efficient. We’re able to see closer than we had ever seen before or a higher resolution than we ever saw before.
Q: Based on your personal journey, what does it take to become a success in your field?
The things that I think that make one successful, particularly in my field, are things that I reflect upon as a young person. I played sports and I think they bring out your tenacity and fortitude, and you learn practice and hard work. I’ve been told I have this grit, because I’ve had failures, but I’ve also had lots of successes. And I learned that, with science, without a lot of failures, we never push the envelope. Because if you’re not trying to go that extra length, then you’re not trying the hard types of problems.
Q: What challenges have you faced, if any, as a woman in science?
Some of the challenges we all face, as humans, is raising a family. But we know as women, we tend to have the broader childbearing on our shoulders, especially when children are young.
Q: What advice would you give young women researchers?
We work more than those common 8 to 5 hours and so you better love what you do, because you’re going to be doing it a whole lot. And to be great, you have to have that fortitude and confidence.
I was lucky. I had a family that was very supportive. But you create a cohort around yourself. Find people that are like-minded and who are supportive. That actually helps women a lot–really having other people to support them. And that doesn’t necessarily mean only women. Men are really important too and I’ve had great male role models and mentors in my life.