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Missy Petty
Katie Valentine

Missy Petty

Dr. Missy Petty works for NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) in the Global Systems Division (GSD), and is currently performing GSD deputy director duties. In her role, she oversees GSD administrative activities, ranging from property to agreements to communication. She also helps with budget preparation and planning, works with partners to help gain support for GSD projects, and coordinates activities across the division.

What drew you to your current career or field?

Mathematics indirectly led me to my career today. My original goal was to be a math professor. I received a BA in math with a physics minor, and got my Ph.D. in math from the University of Coloado Boulder. While getting my Ph.D., I realized that being a professor wasn’t really the path I wanted to take, so I started exploring the software engineering track. I was fortunate to get a student programmer position at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in the Research Applications Laboratory (Research Applications Program at the time) during the last few years of graduate school.

After getting my Ph.D., I moved to a full-time position in RAL developing scientific applications. I really enjoyed the critical thinking needed to develop software, combined with the implementation of scientific algorithms. I spent a few years in the private sector developing business applications, but when the opportunity arose I headed back to scientific software development, here in NOAA, and I’ve been here ever since.

What was the best advice ever given to you that helped you become successful? 

A poem that my father wrote to my sisters and me when I was in late elementary or middle school:

“Listen my daughters and you shall hear
Some words of wisdom from your Daddy Dear.
Don’t rack your brain, or fret and worry
About which doctor or lawyer you should marry.
I’ll tell you like a would a son
Don’t try to marry a doctor… be one.”

It was framed and hung on the wall in our hallway, and the message was ingrained in me as far back as I can remember. It made it OK to be in the advanced math and science classes in high school, and perfectly natural to head to college with the goal of majoring in math. It was also very counter to the prevailing societal message at that time and growing up in the South, which was an emphasis of going to college to get your “MRS degree."

What challenges have you faced as a woman in your career/field, or in general, and how have you overcome them?

The biggest challenge for me is maintaining a work/life balance. I won’t say I’ve overcome it—it’s something that I work on constantly. I’m a driven person, and I love my job. At the same time, I love my family and they’re important to me. Juggling all of that can be a challenge. I have two daughters, ages 12 and 14, and obviously I want to serve as a role model for them as a woman with a career. At the same time, I want to be there for them as a mom. I’ve been very fortunate to be in a work environment that’s understanding of family obligations and allows telework options and flexible schedules for doctor appointments, “sick kid” days, and school events. I try to be at my girls’ school and extra-curricular events when I can, and I do my best to be present and turn work off when I’m with my family.  

Looking back, what would you tell yourself when you were 12 years old? Or what advice would you give to a woman just starting out in her career?

I would tell my 12-year-old self to take that typing class that she doesn’t think is necessary. For a young woman just starting out in her career, I would advise her to be on the lookout for mentors. The mentors I’ve had have had a huge impact on my career. Don’t be afraid to ask more senior folks you respect about their career path, or for advice. It could turn into a great mentoring relationship.
 

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