As a child, I was the quintessential explorer. In the forest behind my house, I explored new territory as a frontierswoman living off the land and a geologist who had just made an important fossil discovery. I loved looking for the next big adventure. When the movie ‘Contact’ came out, I was enthralled! To think how big the universe might be and that there might be life elsewhere blew my mind. So I said to myself, “That’s what I want to do. That’s my next big adventure – exploring space and finding life out there.”

kristina spaceThe first place that came to mind to pursue this adventure was NASA, but I had no idea how to begin. My father pushed me to go to career fairs and to get to know recruiters. He always told me, “You have to talk to people and make connections. That’s the best way to get to where you want to go.” So, as a freshman in college, I decided to pursue NASA’s co-op program, which provided students with on-the-job training over two or more semesters at one of the NASA centers. I tried for two years via the conventional method of submitting resumes to recruiters to no avail. By my junior year, I realized if I didn’t get in that year, I wouldn’t be able to participate in the program and graduate on time. So I decided to try my father’s advice. I found students who had been part of NASA’s co-op program in my university and I talked to them about their experiences. I asked them for their contacts and whether they knew anyone in the co-op selection office that I could talk to. Being an introvert, it took a lot of courage to cold-call people at NASA, but in the end it paid off. One day, I received a phone call from the co-op hiring manager at NASA and he told me that the final slot was down to me and another person. However, because I sought him out and repeatedly called him, he knew I wanted the job more. So, he gave it to me.

kristina trainingThat co-op position led to a full-time job working on designing deep space habitats, researching radiation mitigation schemes to keep people healthy during long duration space missions, and systems engineering of lunar landers to help us figure out how to settle the space frontier. Moving forward in my career, networking is even more important than before. We are entering an age when collaborations (as well as some competition) are how we will overcome the barriers to deep space exploration. One of the main tools I use regularly is LinkedIn. Here are just some of the ways I currently use LinkedIn in my everyday work:

Build new contacts - At conferences, I meet people at networking events and collect their business cards. I write down on the card where I met the person and what we talked about. Then, I connect with them on LinkedIn and I put the details of our meeting in the relationships tab.

Research information - There are so many ideas on LinkedIn. I use the search feature in my groups to find more information about a subject. If there’s a particular person who is an expert on that subject, I’ll ask to connect with them.

Learn - I am and will always be an avid student. Recently, I’ve gotten more interested in leadership and how one becomes a good leader. I find great information on LinkedIn on this subject and am following several influencers, such as Richard Branson and Bill Gates, who I think have some really wonderful advice.

I wish LinkedIn had been around when I first started my job search. It definitely would have made connecting with people much easier. The great news is I have LinkedIn now and through my connections and our shared information, my future adventures are waiting!

Editor’s Note: This story was originally posted on Kristina’s profile via LinkedIn’s publishing platform as part of our Picture Yourself campaign. If LinkedIn has helped you transform your career or business, please share your story with us.