Women in the High-Energy Universe: Lisa Paton

Lisa Paton is the Information Technology (IT) Manager for the High-Energy Astrophysics Division of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). This means she oversees the computer networks and systems that allow scientists and everyone who work on the Chandra X-ray Observatory and other projects to have the technical infrastructure and support that they need to do their jobs.

(Please read part 1 for an introduction to this series)


I started playing with computers in elementary school. My father worked for Univac, one of the first computer companies, and through him I got access to computer systems early on. I decided in high school to go into computer science because of the wide range of organizations that needed people with computer skills. I didn't deliberately seek out a job in astronomy, but lucked into a position with the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy (IfA) in 1989. I've been working in astronomy ever since.

My father probably had the biggest influence on my decision to go into computer science. He enjoyed working in the field and saw all the opportunities that were opening up. It took a little while before I settled on Systems Administration as the area that I would specialize in. When I started in college, all computer science majors were trained to be software engineers. There wasn't any other option. I got a job with the college newspaper where they were using a very early version of Unix to run the financial and publishing systems. We all needed to both write software and hack the OS in order to keep things running. That experience in managing the systems is really what got me the job at the IfA (and eventually the CfA).

There are two things that I really enjoy about my job. I enjoy working with people and helping them get the resources they need to do their jobs. People who work in science are very smart and mostly a pleasure to work with. I also really enjoy systems architecture, building a large system that is easy to maintain and gets the job done.

The opportunities in working with computers and networks continue to grow. Be prepared to continue learning your whole life because the industry is in a constant state of change.

Lisa Paton

I think some people are put off by the images of scientists in the popular media. Science in general and computer science in particular are terrific areas to work in. There are so many different opportunities I hate to see bright young people pass them up.

-Lisa Paton

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