Libby's research examining water: rock interactions and biological impacts on weathering helps interpret observations from Mars.

Where are you from?

I am from Boise, Idaho, where I was lucky to be able to spend a lot of time outdoors hiking and backpacking, and learning to appreciate geology.

Describe the first time you made a personal connection with outer space.

One summer I attended an astronomy program in Bryce Canyon, Utah, while I was camping there with my family. There, we would go out at night and view the stars. I remember being fascinated by everything I was learning and seeing.

In addition to teaching my students the value of good research, I try to help them hone their writing and speaking skills. Writing and speaking well will aid you in any career you pursue.
- Libby Hausrath

How did you end up working in the space program?

I was in graduate school at Penn State University (in the department of geoscience) studying aqueous geochemistry when the twin Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit and Opportunity) landed on Mars. All of the exciting new data about water on Mars piqued my interest in water-rock interactions on Mars, as well as on the Earth.

While a postdoc at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, I worked on phosphate mobility on Mars. I am lucky enough to still be working on phosphate on Mars with my own graduate students as a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. I think one of the most helpful things about my postdoc was writing a proposal for the work I was going to do, and then working to execute it – good practice for being a faculty member!

What is an Associate Professor of Geoscience?

I am lucky to have a great job. I get to do a combination of research, teaching, and working with students in many different capacities.

I teach a variety of classes, including general education classes such as “Physical Geography” and “Global Warming,” and upper level classes such as “Principles of Geochemistry.” I have several excellent graduate students, as well as undergraduate students, who work in my lab. (I am always looking for good students to work with -- see link below.)

I also participate in running the department, including, right now, a stint as Graduate Admissions Coordinator.

Tell us about a favorite moment so far in your career.

I am lucky enough to have lots of happy moments in my career. Probably my most rewarding moments are the successes of my students -- I am so proud of them when they get papers accepted for publication, receive funding and fellowships for their work, awards for their research, and after they graduate go on to enjoy professional success in their chosen field. I am also very excited to be working on the Returned Sample Science Board which is helping provide scientific guidance on aspects of Mars sample return for the Mars2020 mission.

Who inspired you?

My Ph.D. advisor, Sue Brantley, and postdoc advisor, Doug Ming, are shining examples of scientists and advisors -- I am very lucky to have worked with them.

I am also grateful to lots of other people who have helped me along the way, and to the great scientists of history who are each very inspiring.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to take the same career path as you?

In addition to teaching my students the value of good research, I try to help them hone their writing and speaking skills. Writing and speaking well will aid you in any career you pursue.

I also encourage my students to apply for external funding. This is good practice for writing proposals, and is prestigious if you do receive it. I would specifically recommend applying for NASA graduate and postdoc fellowships. The NASA Postdoc Program provides support for postdoctoral research for up to three years at a NASA center. Here’s how it works: You write a proposal to work with a particular mentor at a specific NASA center. If selected, you will be able to do your research there.

In addition to practice in writing proposals, I think another valuable experience in graduate school -- or as a postdoc -- is to mentor undergraduate students. Making the transition from being a graduate student to a professor who mentors graduate students is not easy, but one of the things that made it easier for me was having mentored undergraduate students while I was still a graduate student.

I also advise taking part in the “On the Cutting Edge” workshops available for graduate students and faculty members though the National Association of Geoscience Teachers. I have attended both the graduate student and early career faculty workshops. I strongly encourage everyone to apply – attending these workshops has been among the most useful few days I have spent in my entire professional life. (Parts of the workshops were based on the work of Robert Boice, which is also a good resource).

What do you do for fun?

I love to be outside, hiking and camping in the many great locations near Las Vegas with my family. I also love to read.

If you were talking to a student interested in science and math or engineering, what advice would you give them?

I would give them advice about practicing the necessary skills that I mentioned above, but I would also encourage them to be resilient and persistent. In addition to all the wonderful moments that make this such a great career, there are also discouraging moments that everyone experiences – papers get rejected, proposals get rejected, job applications get rejected … This happens, to everyone, and so I would encourage students to learn from their experiences, and persevere.