Anum Ashraf is a Climate Scientist at NASA Langley Research Center.
NASA/Angelique Herring

Anum Ashraf is a Climate Scientist at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Originally set on pursuing a medical career, Anum found her calling in engineering and research. Now a “doctor for the planet” with a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, she uses her skills to study Earth’s radiation budget and develop instrumentation that can inform the future of our planet.

Who or what inspired you to choose your career and why?

I would have to say my parents and just my family. As a little girl, I didn’t grow up dreaming to be a scientist or an engineer at NASA. In fact, when I started my academics, I originally wanted to be a medical doctor, but my parents pushed me to have a backup plan, so I also pursued a degree in biomedical engineering. And that’s actually what’s worked out!

What do you find most rewarding about working with NASA?

What I find most rewarding is being part of a community and knowing that you are contributing to the greater good in some way—knowing that I am helping design instrumentation that is eventually going to go up in space to makes measurements of the climate, which will then help inform policymakers. And climate and weather instruments are important for our planet’s future, and I think being part of that is very rewarding, too.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

Lately, I have picked up knitting, and I enjoy knitting projects for my kids. Knitting is amazing! I enjoy it because, to some extent, there’s math involved—you count the stitches—and it’s very fulfilling at the end of the day. My daughter loves wearing her scarf that I knitted her. She goes to school, and she tells everybody “My momma knitted this,” and the teachers are so surprised. Like, your mom did that? Yeah, I’m talented like that!

How does your background and heritage contribute to your perspective and approach in your role at NASA?

I was born in Pakistan and moved to the states when I was ten years old. So, I’ve experienced and lived in different cultural backgrounds, and I think that’s really helped shape me. I am a principal investigator, so I lead a team of engineers and scientists who have very diverse backgrounds. It really takes a specific person with a specific set of qualities to morph all of those disciplines and really lead the team forward, and I think my upbringing has helped me excel in this role.

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