An Interview with Maida Smith

This week’s interview is with Maida Smith

Jessica Barton: What is your job title?
Maida Smith: Finance and administrative director. HR isn’t in my title, but it kind of falls under administration, and it makes up about a third of what I do.

JB: What does your work at LCOGT involve?
MS: I have general oversight of the bookkeeping, our accounting standards and controls, the office/admin stuff and the HR functions, recruiting, staffing issues, admin, and working on the office culture and trying to help people feel nurtured in a way that makes them productive and happy employees.

I also get to be part of the strategizing for the organization. Because of my HR work, I am in the unique position of knowing everyone here and their basic job. This allows me to see ways we can strategically connect people to work together. It’s an amazing part of my job, learning what everybody does. I have a real admiration for what people here are doing and are capable of. I love the part of my job that involves working with people, but I also need quiet time and the accounting side helps balance that by giving me some quiet concentration time.

JB: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself - your education, interests, past work experiences.
MS: I grew up on a farm and was always kind of a tomboy, gaining a real connection with nature. My family moved to Santa Barbara in the early 1960’s. I went to UCSB and started off as a French major, thinking that I would become an interpreter and live in France. I changed from that direction when I decided to get married in my second year of college, taking time off of school and working before returning to finish UCSB as an Environmental Studies major, then a new program and more aligned with my passion for the environmental movement. My work with numbers and accounting began during this period because I supplemented my income with part-time bookkeeping jobs, later using the flexibility to enable me to prioritize raising my two sons. I eventually built this into a business that specialized in small business consulting, helping build financial systems that paralleled the story of a business. This, of course, brought me to Wayne and Dorothy as clients and then to the transition of my business to my son, leaving me free to join LCOGT in its infancy - a new child to raise! Being a mother to my sons has been and continues to be the most important job of my life with my husband, Duffy and LCOGT coming in close behind.

I love sports. If I had started earlier, I think I would have wanted to be a professional soccer player! I think that, especially for women, learning to compete in a healthy way carries over into every aspect of life, especially the workplace.

JB: What is a typical day at work like?
MS: My days are all pretty varied and I like it that way. In the morning I usually check email right away in case there are any HR or accounting urgent matters. Each day there are accounting tasks, HR issues, organizational stuff, and I also always have my eye on upcoming tax compliance due dates.

JB: What advice would you offer people wanting to go into the type of work you do?
MS: Very few people would say they want to go into admin. It seems to have kind of a bad reputation. You need to be flexible and be able to look at things from a wider perspective than your own. I spend a lot of time working with people to find solutions that are not necessarily their first choice of how to do things, but that help everyone work together and move our organization forward.

JB: How does your role impact LCOGT’s mission?
MS: Well, many seem to consider admin a necessary evil, and it’s true that unnecessary bureaucracy can usurp its true purpose. In my work here I have really learned to appreciate this purpose staying mindful of trying to help LCOGT grow from the ground up, creating quality infrastructure and procedures. Through this, I’ve become more aware of the value of the service that the admin function plays. Wayne made it clear early on that he wanted there to be purpose and rationale behind every procedure. The point is not to create bureaucracy, but to help us all be productive and successful. Walking that line has been a huge challenge. Creating a consciousness of our spending is similar - we all want to do high quality work with high quality products and tools - at the same time, we have to be mindful that we have fixed funding so need to spend wisely. I want to be sure we reach our ultimate mission with the money we have to spend.

JB: Thanks Maida!

If You Stand Still They Can't See You

"A geosynchronous satellite doesn't move, right?"  That's the question I was asked every time I mentioned the idea of trying to image a geosynchronous satellite with the Faulkes Telescope North.

An Interview with Abiy Tekola

This week’s interview is with Abiy Tekola.

Jessica Barton: What is your job title?
Abiy Tekola: It is a post-doctoral fellow.

JB: What does your work at LCOGT involve?
AT: My work involves both science and education. My science work focuses mainly on extragalactic astronomy especially on the relationship between galaxy environment and their star formation properties. My education work focuses on taking astronomy to the general public.

JB: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself - your education, interests, past work experiences.
AT: I am originally from a small town called Debrezeit in central Ethiopia. This is the place where I did my primary and high school education. I then moved to another small town called Alemaya and did my undergraduate degree in Physics and maths at Alemaya University. I finally moved to Cape Town, South Africa in 2005 and started my Masters and continued to my PhD at the University of Cape Town and graduated in December 2011. I like soccer and I usually watch at least one game every weekend. I am also a great fan of art in general though I do not do any myself.

JB: What led you to the career/job you are doing now?
AT: I have had a strong interest in astronomy ever since I was a kid though opportunities to expose myself to it were very limited. I think the desire to know more about the field led me to where I am.

JB: What is a typical day at work like?
AT: Usually my day starts very early. The first thing I do when I get to office is check email and then depending on the day I might be doing either my science work or education related stuff. In a typical science workday, I analyze data and do some programing that help me in data analysis. Writing and reading research papers are also part of my science work. In a typical education workday, I do planning of the different activities that I need to do, visiting schools and speaking to students about astronomy. Some of my days could also be a combination of both science and education workdays.

JB: What advice would you offer people wanting to go into the type of work you do?
AT: Listen to your hearts and make sure that astronomy is indeed what you want to do for the rest of your life. Once you decide, you should always remember that hard work and patience are important because the path to a full-fledged astronomy career is really long and at times challenging.

JB: Thanks Abiy!

Weather Site Updates

Version 1.0.1 of the LCOGT Weather website was released today bringing some new features and a completely re-vamped look and feel. This new version hopes to provide a more user friendly experience that provides the data more clearly, is more accessible, and significantly faster. It will have support across multiple browsers, does not require Javascript, and contains extra support for those with disabilities.

CCC at Sedgwick

The California Conservation Corps spent the weekend camping at Sedgwick doing a number of projects around the reserve, including trail maintenance on the path up the hill to BOS. As a thank you to the group for working on that path, we offered them a star party which was enthusiastically accepted.

LCOGT Sees First Light at McDonald Observatory


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