How does a NASA datanaut and Miss Universe Ireland stay organised? Fionnghuala O'Reilly on self-care

  • by IMAGE

If you're struggling to keep up with 26-year-old Fionnghuala O'Reilly's accomplishments, you're not alone. The systems engineer, who currently works with NASA as director of its Washington DC-based SpaceApps Challenge, is also the reigning Miss Universe Ireland. Splitting her time between Dublin and Washington DC takes some serious organisational skills. But it's all in a day's work for the datanaut... 

What is a datanaut? We're glad Melanie Morris asked Fionnghuala O'Reilly during Week 7 of IMAGE Self-care Sundays, in partnership with Yoplait.

In virtual conversation, where Fionnghuala broadcast from her home in Washington DC, Fionnghuala outlined how self-care was key to her success.

If you missed the virtual event last Sunday, you can catch up on demand here.


"A datanaut is a really cool word – I think – for a data scientist!," Fionnghuala tells IMAGE group contributing editor Melanie. "A data scientist is someone that looks at information. You're painting a story giving a lot of information.

"As a systems engineer, that has been really helpful because I've learned to code, I do math, specifically statistics, and I've learned how to do really amazing great data visualisations. So essentially you're using a lot of information to put together a story that really tells what is going on within all of this data. You pass that information along to maybe scientists, or other people who need this information, to do experiments or to make really important decisions to make something happen.

"With NASA, the data that we're looking at, is environmental data, space data and all of NASA's data is open source. Open source means it is open and available to anyone. One of the main missions of NASA is to be able to inform the public, your average person, of what's going on."

So how does Fionnghuala code, gather this information and pass it on to scientists, from her home in Dublin when her HQ is based in Washington DC?

"I started with self-awareness," she says. "I like to keep my schedule, [asking myself] do I like to wake up early, get all my work done and then be able to do whatever I want? Or do I like to work a little bit, take a break and then go back to work?

"Figuring out what works best for my rhythm was the very first part of it. And then in general I had to set some boundaries.

"I'm very, very strict with my diary. I make sure that as soon as something happens, if I'm informed about anything, I put it immediately into my diary, deadlines and dates that I need to get back to people about certain things. And even if someone else hasn't set a deadline for myself, I'll set a deadline for myself so that I know that I'm ahead of schedule or I'm right on schedule."


And one diary isn't enough for this organisational whizz. Fionnghuala keeps a written diary, as well as a digital calendar that is synced with her personal and professional emails.

"The reason that I keep a written diary is because sometimes I find that if I write something out, I will remember it a lot better than if I only add it into my phone or into my laptop."

And, unsurprisingly, the reigning Miss Universe Ireland, who was crowned in 2019, is also a master of to-do lists.

"At the start of the week, either Sunday or Monday, the first thing that I do is write down all the things that I need to get done this week. Then I will separate them to different days of the week and then each day that I do work during the week, I make sure that I also write also another to-do list. It will say what individual tasks need to be done by the end of the day today so that it's ready for tomorrow, or Wednesday, or Thursday or whatever have you.

"Another thing which is massively important is being able to have boundaries for yourself. Because I often work from home, sometimes it's easy to say 'okay let me just have a quick chat with a friend' or 'I'm going to get onto social media and start scrolling'. But as soon as you get distracted, it's so hard to stop."

There you have it ladies. Starting with a humble pen and paper is the key to locking in self-awareness, which is the key to success.

To watch the full virtual event with Fionnghuala and Melanie, click here.


IMAGE Self-care Sundays is an eight-week wellness series, in partnership with Yoplait. Melanie Morris will host eight virtual events - all free to the IMAGE reader - so you can access them from the comfort of your own home. Get inspired to start your own self-care journey and spread Yoplait's 'You Time' message that putting yourself first is a key component in life's happiness and success.

Register for Self-care Sundays: Transform with Jen's Journey here.

For the full Self-care Sundays schedule, see here. Follow #IMAGESelfcareSundays on social.

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