Women in Research: Catherine (Cat) Merrill

March 3, 2023
Cat Merrill women in research

Describe your Research Contributions or Interests. 

My work is in the field of Optics. Historically, I build and deliver first generation hardware. I have been very lucky to work in many aspects of that field: radiometric and spectral calibration, image processing, system requirements development, algorithm development, and program management. I have worked in missile defense (EKV and SM-3), space research (OSIRIS-Rex), ground based telescopes (Giant Magellan Telescope), community science (NOIR Labs Community Science and Data Center). I was even fortunate enough to mentor at The College of Engineering as part of Engineering 498. I developed an agile development version of the program. I am now the co-owner of Ruda Optical. Ruda is a custom optical design and analysis firm here in Tucson. We design, analyze, build, align, and test systems per our customer’s needs. At Ruda, as Chief Financial Officer and Director of Programs, I run the Program Management Office and Business Office. I am a point of contact for all customers. I oversee the cost, schedule, risk, and technical management of all programs within Ruda.

Who was your Most Significant Role Model in Science or in your Career?

Dr. Kent Pflibsen. He taught me to ask better questions and that hard work is recognized. He guided me into an advanced degree that resonated with me and was also useful to him and to Raytheon. I look at him and his body of work, and I am humbled that he always (and I mean always) made time for young engineers who were willing to learn and work. I thank him every day for my career.

What Piece of Advice Would you Like to Pass On?

When you are at work, be at work. When you are at home be at home. We all struggle with the work life balance. Sometimes the personal stuff takes over and you need to pay attention to that. Sometimes work is more demanding. It is important to identify all your needs and responsibilities and recognize that they each have a time and place. Sometimes the priorities switch for periods of time. This happens. But recognizing when you cannot be at work because other life needs you is important. Likewise, when you need to spend the extra time to support your team, the family side needs to be flexible. You do not want both your work life and home life to be in crisis at the same time! The act of balancing is hard and there is no roadmap, but recognizing the various roles and needs is important.