Get to Know Gemini! – Joy Chavez

Get to Know Gemini is a new series of blog posts aimed to highlight the different careers, backgrounds, and types of people contributing to Gemini Observatory and its science.


Name:  Joy Chavez

What is your current position and at which telescope?

Science Operation Specialist at Gemini South.

In four lines, explain what you do as part of the Gemini Observatory team?

Drive the telescope at night, fix simple problems with the telescope and instruments; observe scientific targets, watching the weather to decide what is appropriate for the conditions (or if we have to close); quality check on data and calibration of the instruments.

How long have you worked for Gemini?

Almost 5 years

What drew you to this job?

I’ve always wanted to work at telescope. I went to graduate school to get the opportunity to observe with the professional telescopes, but observing was the only thing I was good at. Research after you get the data is really hard, and I don’t like it. But with this job, I get to do what I really want without the things I don’t like.

What is the best part of your job?

Working through a clear night, with no telescope problems, observing high-priority science – little rocks in our solar system, distant galaxy clusters, and everything in between. I love completing a night of observing, working through our top-priority queue (target checklist for 6 months).

Where are you originally from/where did you grow up?

I am from Texas. I grew up outside the Dallas area, and lived in various parts of Texas through college and graduate school. I didn’t move out of Texas until I got my job with Gemini.

What skill do you think is most important to know for your job?

Paying attention to detail. A lot of what I do is repetitive, but even after 5 yrs, I use a checklist at the start and end of the night. I can’t rely on habit and accidentally miss something important. And when I’m trying to work through a problem on the telescope, it’s important to understand what is happening in the software and mechanisms.

Why is astronomy important?

I once had a college recruiter scoff at astronomy as having “no economic applications.” It’s not true because of the technology we create that support astronomical discoveries. But the comment does reveal that the true importance of astronomy is close to art. It is fundamentally a human experience to reach beyond the practical and know our place in something grand – the universe, in the case of astronomy. To dismiss it as impractical is to dismiss the fundamental needs of the human soul.

What is your favorite movie?

Depends on the month! Right now, Midnight Special.

What is the latest book you have read?

Bolivar: American Liberator

What three albums would you bring with you to a desert island?

Hymns by Steve Green
Contra La Corriente by Marc Anthony
Silver Anniversary CD by Nielson and Young

What is one hobby of yours?


Favorite beverage?

Coffee – beans from the Big Island, ground fresh in a burr grinder, brewed in a French press.

Check back next month to learn more about the staff that help Gemini to explore the Universe and share its wonders!

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