Office of Economic Impact and Diversity

Women @ Energy: Jessica Osuna

July 23, 2014

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Jessica Osuna is a post-doc in the Atmospheric, Earth, and Energy Division of Lawrence Livermore National Lab.

Jessica Osuna is a post-doc in the Atmospheric, Earth, and Energy Division of Lawrence Livermore National Lab.

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Jessica Osuna is a post-doc in the Atmospheric, Earth, and Energy Division of Lawrence Livermore National Lab. At the lab she works on improving ways that fluxes of carbon dioxide, water, and energy from the Earth's surface are modeled and measured. This contributes to work understanding natural ecosystems for regional climate models as well as predicting water security under changing climate and modeling wind over varied land surfaces for wind energy applications. She received her B.S. In Atmospheric Sciences from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (2004) and her Ph.D. In Environmental Sciences, Policy, and Management at the University of California Berkeley (2011).  Prior to coming to LLNL, Jessica received a NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship in Biology allowing her to work with researchers at the University of New Mexico and Los Alamos National Lab to study tree drought mortality events throughout the Southwest. 

1) What inspired me to work in STEM?

I was inspired to work in STEM during junior high thanks to wonderful math and science teachers. I loved knowing that through a well-planned methodical approach, I could solve problems that were presented to me.  I saw a commonality in algebra, computer science, and biology classes wherein I was no longer just memorizing answers but rather learning how to approach a problem.  At that point, I knew that I would love to employ those skills in a career but I had no idea what that would actually mean until I was in college.  By nature, I am an inquisitive person and I am never content with just accepting an answer.  I must be convinced, or rather convince myself.  Therefore, scientific research was a natural fit for me.

2) What excites me about my work?

For my Ph.D., I studied leaf-level functional responses of photosynthesis to environmental drivers and how the leaf-level processes affected canopy-level dynamics.  While this was interesting and valuable, I was looking forward to applying my multi-disciplinary understanding of the land's surface (soil-plant-atmosphere interactions) to problems affecting our nation. I wanted my work to be more connected with decision makers.  Therefore, what excites me incredibly about my work at the lab is that I have colleagues that are experts in many different academic areas and we are encouraged to think about innovative ways to work together and solve problems. I am thankful to have the opportunity to study how California's water systems will respond to the ever increasing stress of droughts, how changes to the land surface due to management practices or natural forcing will affect the generation of wind power, etc. I love that I can look at more senior scientists and see how their careers have changed paths in unpredictable ways in order to address problems that are important to our nation.  The idea that I can challenge myself to apply my skills in new ways and learn new skills in a supportive and collaborative environment is incredibly exciting to me!

3) How can our country engage more women, girls and other underrepresented groups in STEM?

I feel that it is so very important for girls and under-represented groups to understand that they already have skills that are valuable in the STEM fields!  Perseverance, teamwork, and curiosity are just as important as skills in math and problem solving. You don't need to become someone different to be valuable and successful in science!  Additionally, it is incredibly important to improve the way that society views and values people who work in STEM.  Effort should be continually made to make STEM careers seem accessible, honorable, valuable, and exciting.  I think that if society understands and appreciates the impact that people in STEM careers make on their lives (not just on the lives of the elite who can afford fancy gadgets), it will be easier for families and communities to support their children in dreaming about and pursuing STEM careers.  Furthermore, having more diverse scientists visiting schools and doing outreach in a casual, personal setting is key to showing diverse communities that STEM is for them also!  Girls and underrepresented children need to be able to first visualize themselves in a STEM career but also imagine the feeling of pride that they, their families, and their communities would have for their accomplishments.

4) Do you have any tips you'd recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?

I would first suggest that anyone interested in entering my field of work never waste an opportunity to learn more math and computer programming. Focus on the excitement of the challenge and the gratification in solving a problem you couldn't before when learning math and programming. These skills give you the tools and therefore the freedom to pursue complex problems in innovative and cutting edge ways.  Also, avoid the temptation to think "I'll never use this" during any class, seminar, or discussion. Science is becoming more and more inter-disciplinary so you never know when a tidbit you learned long ago may come in handy for starting a conversation or giving you a head start when learning something new. 

5) When you have free time, what are your hobbies?

I am a mother of two (7-year old daughter and 5-year old son) so most of my free time involves playing baseball, practicing ballet,  reading, or exploring with my children and husband.  I love to run, practice yoga (sometimes with my children), do pilates, listen to a wide variety of music, and especially dance (salsa and bachata are favorites).  I also love to read, especially books by Jorge Ramos, Carlos Fuentes, and Isabel Allende.