Melissa Weiss has been a graphic designer for the Chandra project for over a decade. Her work can be seen throughout Chandra's website as well as its print and multimedia products for students, teachers and the public.
I have to be honest, my career in astronomy happened organically. Part of me wants to say that, as a child, I always looked up at the stars and dreamed of what lay with them. But the reality is that my interests weren't really up with the stars, but down on canvas with paints, pens, and any other tool I could be creative with. Art has always been my passion.
When I began with the Chandra Education and Public Outreach group, I had experience as a graphic designer and illustrator, but my knowledge of Astronomy had not expanded much further than that of my childhood. Fortunately, as a graphic designer one of the important aspects of the work is to truly dive into the subject of your projects so that your final product effectively reaches its audience. That wasn't difficult for me considering the beautiful images taken by the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the wonder of how they were created are a true inspiration.
Now I get to draw illustrations, design posters, create interactive features, and mold the visuals of Chandra's own website -- all with the intent of teaching others about our X-ray Universe and all of its mysteries. It's not a big part I play within this field, but the work I do is the last step that brings the extraordinary discoveries of the Chandra team to you in a way that can perhaps help you understand X-ray astronomy better. The way it has for me. That is my favorite part of the job (aside from getting to be creative everyday): knowing that I am helping to show you about the mysteries of the Universe.
I was asked to give advice to those interested in pursuing a similar career as mine. I would absolutely suggest that you dive into Adobe Photoshop, InDesign and Flash. Those are the tools that are essential for my everyday work. It is also important to continually to push to be better. I still take creative classes and search for inspiration (from the internet to nature) to keep my passion for design alive. And finally, become an active member in the astronomy community if this is the field you want to be a part of. Attend the conferences if you are able and don't forget to take the time to meet people (personally or virtually). Although you may be an artist, you still have to sell yourself and your skills to the people you want to work with. You never know when one handshake or new friendship can lead you to the career you've been dreaming of.