Where are you from?
I am from Denver, Colo.
|"[T]owards the end of my undergraduate|
career I discovered astrobiology and
decided it was even more interesting."
Describe the first time you made a personal connection with outer space.
It is hard to know when I had my first personal connection with outer space because I have always loved astronomy. However, one fun memory I have is of visiting a Challenger Center near my grade school. Challenger Centers, of which there are many across the nation (and a few international ones too), give students the opportunity to role play in a simulated space mission. Who wouldn't think that a mock space mission is exciting?
How did you end up working in the space program?
When I went to college at the University of Colorado at Boulder, I was set on studying archaeoastronomy, and so I majored in astronomy and anthropology. However, towards the end of my undergraduate career I discovered astrobiology and decided it was even more interesting, and so I chose to go in the planetary science direction for graduate school and for my research.
What is a graduate student in planetary science?
As a graduate student in planetary science you usually take classes during your first few years, while also doing research and possibly teaching as well. The kind of classes you take varies based on your background preparation (what you did as an undergraduate) and what school you go to, but the classes generally either fill in background knowledge you don't already have, or go further in depth into the subject you will be studying in graduate school. It is a busy job, but if you enjoy your research the time goes by very quickly.
I currently research the geology and geophysics of the icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn. My work has looked at a variety of geologic features on several moons. I then relate these surface features to theories about the interior dynamics, surface material properties, thermal history, or lithospheric stress state of these moons.
Tell us about a favorite moment so far in your career.
I have had lots of great experiences at various places out in the field. When scientists refer to "the field" they mean studying real life objects out of doors on Earth. Even though you are studying the other planets as a planetary geologist it is still a good idea to get out and study geology on Earth -- this really helps you to understand the planetary processes. We call this type of research "studying analogues." For example, one fun experience I have had was getting to hike around and to the bottom of Meteor Crater in Arizona during a special field camp (regular tourists to the crater do not get to do this). Meteor Crater is an example of an analogue site, because many other planetary bodies have craters. In the past astronauts were trained at Meteor Crater so that they would know how to study the craters on the Moon when they got there.
Who inspired you?
I have had many great mentors so far. If I had to pick one particularly inspirational person though, I would have to pick the late Susan Niebur. Susan's commitment to furthering the numbers of women in planetary science and in scientific leadership set such a great example. Susan had a keen ability to apply the scientific method in tackling human issues experienced by people in the field of planetary science: Susan would identify a problem, collect data surrounding the issue, pinpoint the underlying sources of the problem, and, most importantly, would formulate innovative solutions.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to take the same career path as you?
It never hurts to have many mentors -- each person will give you different advice, and it helps to collect as much advice as you can before making a decision.
Be aware that there are many ways to enter the field of planetary science, and a background in any facet of math, physics, astronomy, geology, or engineering will be an asset.
Also, I currently help with the blog that Susan Niebur founded for women in planetary science (link below). This is a great place to find "e-mentoring," and links to relevant fellowships.
What do you do for fun?
I enjoy social dancing (swing and tango) and playing with my cat.
If you were talking to a student interested in science and math or engineering, what advice would you give them?
Don't be afraid of math! A lot of young people either do not like math or think they are not, and cannot be, good at it. Even if you think that math is not your favorite subject, you may just find out that you like higher level math better. Or you can even think of math as a means to an end: You want to solve planetary problems, and you use math as a means to do that. I have also found that whether or not a person likes math depends heavily on how good their teachers were in school -- so hold out and work hard at math until you get a good teacher who inspires you to like math!
Links to Videos, Stories, etc.
Last Updated: 1 May 2014
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