In 10 years with NASA, Jennifer Buchli has trained astronauts, cosmonauts, and mission control personnel on life support systems and emergency response for the International Space Station (ISS).

Her career has been satisfying, with a promising path ahead. But through the years Jennifer felt compelled to work toward a long-standing goal she had set for herself. When she discovered Harvard Extension School, she knew it was the ideal place to earn that graduate degree.

Before coming to Harvard, Jennifer had never taken a management class. “I started the program with the intent of doing purely science and biotechnology.” But Jennifer quickly recognized how applicable management was to her work, so she shifted her focus to biotechnology management.

“Harvard Extension School allowed me the flexibility to continue working at NASA in Houston while pursuing my degree,” Jennifer says. She took many of her courses online, and she came to Harvard during the summer and three-week January sessions to complete the four on-campus courses required for the degree. She also enjoyed courses that combined weekly online class time with one intensive weekend on campus.

“Excellent time management is essential for doing well in the program,” she explains. “I recommend that any Biotechnology Management student, or any Extension student for that matter, refine those skills from the very start.”

Buchli with three members of the crew of the International Space Station in 2012.
Jennifer Buchli with the E36 crew of the International Space Station. Photographer: James Blair

During her time in the program, Jennifer leveraged her role as an operational specialist on a project into an internship. The research, conducted by NASA and the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, involves the study of mice living in microgravity during a space station mission, which may provide insights about muscle development and atrophy. 

In her thesis, Jennifer explores the bigger picture of this experimentation. “For a long time, NASA was focused on building the ISS. Now, the focus has moved to conducting research there,” she says. “There are a lot of questions we need to answer: ‘What are the best strategies for managing the different aspects of these research projects? How can we use this world-class laboratory for purposes here on Earth, as well as for planning the next generation of space exploration?’”

She believes her Harvard Extension School degree, along with her internship experience, played a key role in helping her earn a new position in NASA’s ISS Program Science Office.

In her new role—with a graduate degree under her belt—Jennifer helps manage the many multinational research projects conducted on the space station. As always, questions are at the center of her initiatives: “How do we meet the goals of the experiments, while still maintaining their feasibility for the personnel living on the space station?” she asks. “Delving into this question will be a lot of fun—a cool puzzle to solve.”

Jennifer is now preparing for Commencement, and she is looking forward to celebrating with family and her classmates. In reflecting on her entire Extension School experience, she describes it succinctly: “Extremely relevant!”

Harvard Extension School no longer offers a graduate degree in Biotechnology Management.