"Don't limit yourself to what you know; explore the unknown."
My name is Kristian Chan, and I grew up in Queens, NY. After graduating from high school, I decided to study civil engineering at Cornell University, where I had the opportunity to spend a year abroad in Spain. I worked as a civil engineer building bridges and roads after graduating from Cornell but ultimately returned to school to complete a masters degree in aerospace engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. Now, I am a PhD candidate at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics, where I study ice on Earth and Jupiter's moon, Europa. My research has led me to adventures working in Antarctica and supporting the development of the ice-penetrating radar instrument onboard NASA's Europa Clipper mission.
I've always loved math and science in school, and I knew I wanted to pursue a STEM major in college. Growing up in New York City, I was surrounded by skyscrapers, bridges, and tunnels. So logically, I majored in civil engineering, where I learned how to apply those math and science skills to design for the built environment. But a big part of civil engineering is also learning about the natural environment, which led me to gradually become interested in the environmental side. I went on to work as a civil engineer after college, because I wanted to serve communities at large through the design and construction of public infrastructure.
After a few years, I realized that the traditional civil engineering path wasn't the right career path for me. I returned to school to pursue my masters in aerospace engineering, because space is cool and I knew how to 'engineer'. But I was also searching for something that could satisfy my curiosity and potentially have a large impact on all of society. During that time, I often found myself drawn to the science questions of space exploration, or in other words, more curious about the ‘why’ compared to the ‘how’. That's when I found out I could do research in polar and planetary science, where I could study icy environments on Earth and in the solar system. So I decided to alter my trajectory from engineering to geoscience. Looking back, I wouldn’t change anything, because studying engineering has helped me become a stronger geoscientist today.
Training as a civil engineer at the Portugués Dam
Ponce, Puerto Rico (2014)
Taking a penguin tour during a field season at Jang Bogo Station
Terra Nova Bay, Antarctica (2018)
The surprising thing is...
Geoscience is not just about studying rocks! It is very broad and interdisciplinary, which means studying geoscience can lead to many different types of careers. New technological advances have provided ways to work on some of the most pressing issues concerning Earth and planetary science, right at home. There is something in geoscience for everyone, regardless of background and skill set!
It's okay to not have your perfect career figured out from the very beginning. Sometimes it might be easier to satisfy others' expectations of you, but only you can decide on your own definition of success. The best thing to do is to follow your passions and pursue the the things that most excite you, even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone. You never know what you might come across along the way!