By Caroline Willard and Bailey Fernandez
NASA astronaut candidate and ECL alumna Zena Cardman recently returned to UNC to share stories about her career and training for NASA. Cardman graduated from UNC in 2010 with a BS in biology, honors in poetry, and minors in marine science, chemistry, and creative writing. She then completed a master’s degree in marine science in 2014 and was later selected to join the 2017 Group 22 Astronaut Candidate Class. As a scientist, Cardman values the skills and experience she acquired during her time in the Department of English & Comparative Literature Department.
Cardman reflected, “I loved having the chance as an undergrad to both be a science major and also go through a creative writing program. What better chance than in college to explore both of those totally disparate interests!”
Cardman sees overlap between the two fields. “Science,” she stated, “is all about exploring our world around us…and trying to answer questions about how it all happens. And I also found that writing did the same thing—exploring our world around us…and how we fit into it, how it all works.”
She also remarked on how creative writing and science come together in fiction and popular culture. Science fiction, for instance, can awaken public interest in science. Cardman speculated, “I think having a bunch of space-related movies come out right before the application cycle opened for my class of astronauts is a huge part of why we had so many people apply for this job.”
For Cardman, attention to writing is essential in communicating scientific results to a broader public. As Cardman said, “I think a really important part of any science or technological mission is being able to convey how important that is to people who wouldn’t otherwise get excited about it.”