Sezin Palmer: Conquering Challenges and Advancing Capabilities in Submarine Warfare
Sezin Palmer, APL’s Submarine Warfare program area manager, started her work in the field of submarines almost by accident. She took a chance and decided to explore something that sounded “cool” for a college co-op position—the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL). In her pursuit of an electrical engineering degree that she intended to use in the up-and-coming wireless industry of the late 1990s, Palmer’s interest in submarine systems was sparked by the job at NRL and then at a subsequent internship at the CIA.
Once she realized how much she liked the work, there was nothing that could hold her back. “There were a few people in the submarine community who really helped get me interested, and one of them was John Schuster, once a sponsor and now with APL,” says Palmer. Schuster currently works in the Undersea Warfare Mission Area office in the Force Projection Department.
It wasn’t long before Palmer was making a significant impact within the submarine community—becoming involved in the formative stages of new capabilities shaping submarine warfare today. “One effort that I am most proud of is my involvement in early design studies for a new submarine sensor array,” says Palmer. “It has proven to be an extremely capable system and being involved from the early stages through its deployment has been very exciting.”
Palmer is goal-oriented and enjoys a challenge—two qualities that have helped her flourish in a career field not often pursued by women. Whether she’s supporting the submarine warfare community or training for the marathons she runs in her free time, her approach has always been to stay focused and make things happen. “My favorite challenge in my job is trying to figure out how to solve a new or different problem that we haven’t answered before,” says Palmer. “I like tackling hard problems.”
Throughout her 12 years at APL, Palmer’s career track hasn’t been a traditional one. Originally hired as a task leader for the SSN Survivability program, Palmer continually accepted more responsibility and became a program manager early in her career. As a program manager for the anti-submarine warfare program, she went on to lead assessment efforts for various sponsors within the Navy before tackling her current position leading the Submarine Warfare program area today.
“I would say that at almost every point in my career, I could not have envisioned what I would be doing 2–3 years down the road,” says Palmer. “I have been fortunate to have extremely supportive supervisors who have encouraged and enabled me to be successful, working with our staff and sponsors to develop solutions for the Navy.”
Palmer believes that she works with some of the brightest, most talented technical minds in the nation in her work at APL. The advice she gives to others interested in her field is to stay focused, be assertive, and take initiative. “Too many people sit back and wait for others to tell them what to do or how to do it,” says Palmer. “People who speak out and take the initiative to make a difference are the ones who have the biggest impact.” She encourages everyone she works with, junior or senior, to get involved in the broader thinking of what is important to APL sponsors and to look at where they can provide value.
When she’s not working with her team on APL’s campus or out connecting with a Navy sponsor, Palmer spends most of her free time with her family, including her two young sons. Both boys share their mom’s opinion that submarines are “cool”—often watching Military Channel shows featuring Navy ships and subs with Palmer. When she’s not with her family, she can be found in the pool, on her bike, or on a run, training for her next challenge, a half Ironman (1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride, and 13-mile run). “I am a competitive, goal-oriented person, and entering races like these gives me something to shoot for. If I have a race coming up, I know I will make time to train for it,” says Palmer.