Kathryn (Kat) Robison hails from Raleigh, North Carolina and is a fourth-year doctoral candidate studying space policy in the political science program. Robison completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Arizona, then received her first master’s degree from Youngstown State University. She received a second master’s degree from The University of Alabama. We caught up with her to talk about space policy, the importance of mentoring and the value of receiving a graduate education at The University of Alabama.
Why did you choose The University of Alabama? I chose UA, because its political science program challenged me in a way that other disciplines didn’t. And because Alabama offers really good support for grad students in terms of travel and research funding — the amount of funding they offer is just the best.
I travel internationally for conferences, and that was very attractive to me. I visited several campuses, and I was dead set at the beginning against Alabama, because it’s so humid. But then everyone just welcomed me. I was challenged in my research and came to think of it in new and exciting ways.
What is it about studying space that you find compelling? We’re accomplishing things in space we couldn’t have dreamed of 50 years ago unless you were a science fiction writer. Also, space impacts our daily lives from our cell phones to medical technology to economic investments. For every dollar invested in NASA, we expect to see seven to fourteen dollars returned to our economy. That’s impactful. We should understand how politicians make decisions about space.
But I’m also passionate about how we communicate what we do in space to citizens and how they understand its impact. Space is beautiful. Astronauts talk about how it shifts their perspective. They no longer see borders but one spaceship carrying all of humanity. It’s important to understand the impact that perspective shift has on an individual and a collective level. The fact that we know what the stars look like from Jupiter is inspiring to me.
What role has mentoring played in your academic success? I’ve been very lucky to be part of Tide Together. This provides faculty and peer mentoring alongside professional development and networking for students from underrepresented populations. Being part of that program, making external connections and internal connections in my discipline, has been valuable. When I hit a wall, I had someone there to support me and be my advocate.
In addition to Tide Together, the Graduate School has been a phenomenal advocate for women in STEM. When I needed support in addition to Tide Together, the Graduate School has allowed me to see other women in these fields, and you get a sense that you’re not alone.
So, has your experience at UA lived up to your initial expectations? I’m very happy that I came to UA. It’s been challenging, but I’ve been supported here. I have always had someone I could trust that I could talk to within the faculty and administration.
My department has been flexible with me, and they’ve really advocated for me to take on these studies and make it work. The Graduate School, Dean Carvalho, Dr. Andy Goodliffe, and Dr. Cathy Pagani are student-centered. They want to make sure students have the resources they need to complete research at national and international levels. They are invested in our success as students. I don’t know that I would get that anywhere else.
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.