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A Day in the Life: Dr. Delwyn Moller

Dr Delwyn Moller is a prominent earth scientist, former NASA scientist, and current director of research at the Centre for Space Science Technology in Alexandra, New Zealand. Her ground-breaking work developing state-of-the-art Earth and environmental radar imaging technology has played a massive role in advancing global understanding of climate change, including enabling new and advanced areas of study around ice sheets, glaciers and rising sea levels. In June, this work was acknowledged with a Kea World Class New Zealand Award, which honours Kiwis doing incredible things on the world stage. Here's how she gets through the day, how she organises her time and how she handles the madness of business.

What time do you wake up?

Just in time to get my kids up and ready for school.

What’s the ideal way to start your day?

Hugs from the kids, braiding my daughter’s hair, shuffling the twins off to school.

Do you have any morning rituals?

Coffee!

How soon do you begin doing work-related things, i.e. checking phone or emails?

The moment my kids are gone I am straight into it! Well, actually, sometimes before I even get out of bed, I often check emails on my phone so I have an idea of what’s waiting for me.

What’s your media consumption or interaction like from the morning onwards – do you listen to podcasts, radio, watch videos, read books and magazines, visit new sites?

I have almost no time to spend on media – so when some startling news event happens, I usually hear about it first through friends or colleagues and then I’ll dive into whatever I can find to get up to speed.

What kind of work do you do?

I’m an engineer, but my particular focus is on Earth science and research. Basically, I work with scientists and engineers to
find ways to monitor aspects of the Earth so that we can better understand processes and changes and anthropogenic impacts (the environmental impact of humans on nature).

What responsibility does that involve in a typical day? What takes up most of your time?

It varies day-to-day and week-to-week. Some days it’s computer work, data analysis, project design, proposal writing, and emails coordinating people and projects. Other days it’s meetings, workshops, and seminars, especially when I’m travelling. My work is varied and multidisciplinary, which I really enjoy.

Who do you see/talk to?

I see and talk to many people across many organisations and across many time-zones: engineers of all types, scientists, pilots, programme managers, local and national government officials, NGOs, academics, pilots, mechanics etc.

Where do your best ideas come from?

My best ideas come through brainstorming discussions with colleagues, which is why I’m grateful to work with so many talented people. They also come when I slow down and let my mind wander. Working out also helps!

What are the most important tools or programmes you use for your work?

Anything that can help me visualise and make connections between concepts and the underlying physical processes. Sometimes I have to create them for myself.

There are times when day-to-day it feels like nothing’s accomplished. But then months pass and you realise that all that focused work with your team actually resulted in quite a lot!

How do you juggle all your responsibilities?

I juggle and juggle and juggle and I prioritise. When I’m working on a development, I try to make sure that my team has what they need to continue.  I identify broken paths and figure out how to get them what they need to keep moving forward. I do my best not to have people waiting on me, and if someone else can do what I’m doing, I’ll pass it over to them, so that I can move on to fill the gaps.

What kind of breaks do you take throughout the day?

If my day allows, I love to work out. It settles my mind and helps me focus.

What’s the most enjoyable part of your day?

Time with my children. Learning about their day and soaking up their enthusiasm for learning.

What about the least enjoyable?

Days when I have to sit all day in front of a computer under deadline are my least enjoyable. I like to have a balance so that I can at least get outside to clear my head.

Do you procrastinate? Is it good or bad?

Procrastination is part of my creative cycle and over the years, I’ve learned to trust that. It usually means I’m formulating something in the background, in my subconscious, that isn’t quite “there” yet.

Do you measure your accomplishments or productivity? If so, how?

I like to see forward progress, but sometimes, especially with technology developments (which can easily take years) this can seem slow. There are times when day-to-day it feels like nothing’s accomplished. But then months pass and you realise that all that focused work with your team actually resulted in quite a lot! You need those moments, don’t you? They’re encouragement and affirmation that you’re going in the right direction – and that helps to sustain the forward momentum. It really is all about momentum and keeping your focus in the right direction. This, of course, is hard at times because I admit that I’m not a particularly patient person.

Is there anything you think is unique about your day?

Every day is unique, and offers something different. While I try and weave some structure into my day when possible, I also thrive on the new and unexpected. This is research and development: if you are doing something in research, by definition you don’t know the answer and there will be surprises.

What’s your interaction with friends and family throughout the day? Can you be both a successful entrepreneur and a good mother/partner/friend?

It’s all about focusing my time and energy. My interaction with family is when the kids are out of school: that time in the morning that I mentioned and from after school until they go to bed.  I try to make scheduling my day around those precious moments my priority.  Work-time flexibility is absolutely critical to me, and to my family and I’m fortunate to be able to be able to do that at CSST.

The career/life balance is tough and you have to fight for it. Self-advocacy is essential. Some careers and cultures are more accepting than others in recognising the importance of work/life balance. My field is typically not very progressive in this respect.

Do you get stressed? If so, how do you manage it? Do you practice any mindfulness or meditation?

I get very stressed. Part of that is just my personality. My coping is through lifting weights, Brazilian jiu jitsu and time with the kids.  My children remind me to be present in the moment.

What do you do once you get home? Can you switch off?

I don’t have a lot of work/life boundaries so when I am focused on a project or projects or under deadline, I don’t usually switch off.

What time do you go to sleep?

It can vary, anywhere from 11pm to 2am.  When I’m at the peak of a project or projects and I hit my creative stride, I need just a few hours of sleep a night. But that’s not sustainable long term. I go back to the usual 6-8 hours a night. Until the next burst…

Hummingbird keeps the world – and great individuals like Delwyn – humming.

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