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Lynnae Quick: Don’t be afraid to ask for a job!!!

September 30, 2012

Lynnae Quick PhotoLynnae Quick is a Ph.D. candidate in Earth and Planetary Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.  She works with Dr. Bruce Marsh and Dr. Olivier Barnouin to model magmatic and volcanic processes on icy satellites, with a particular emphasis on Jupiter’s moon, Europa.  She is a current Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab (APL) Fellow in Planetary Sciences and a past recipient of the Johns Hopkins University Bromery Fellowship.

Lynnae has also been active on the Women and Planetary Science blog conducting interviews for this very series… so I thought it was time we got to hear a bit about her path into planetary science as well🙂.

Recent Publications:

  1. What first inspired you to study space science?

I think that I became interested in space science sort of by accident. My junior year of high school, I was looking for a class to fill my schedule with that would get me out of taking a jazz band class I’d been signed up for (I used to play alto sax), and ended up taking an Earth Science course. I had a very good teacher for that course; he always supplemented what was covered in the textbook with interesting and thought-provoking lectures. One of the units we covered was astronomy and after we learned about the H-R diagram and stellar properties, etc., he talked to us about the deaths of stars and how some stars that are massive enough become black holes at the end of their lifecycles. I thought that that was more than cool and I couldn’t believe that people actually made careers out of studying such interesting phenomena! The more questions I asked, the more interested I became in the lifecycle of stars and the formation of black holes. So, I decided that I wanted to become an astrophysicist. Additionally at a conference during my senior year of college, I met Dr. Beth Brown, who was a NASA astrophysicist. She served as a mentor and a tangible example of the successful scientist that I wanted to be. Having her as a role model was really what inspired me to stick with the space sciences path once I’d chosen it. Either way, I had no idea then that I would one day find planets and moons more interesting than stars!

  1. How did you choose where to go to graduate school?

I was told that to do the type of astrophysics research I was interested in, it was better to get an undergraduate degree in physics and then obtain a Ph.D. in Physics or Astronomy. So, after graduating with a B.S. in physics from North Carolina A&T State University, I ended up in the doctoral program in Physics at the Catholic University of America. I chose CUA because the physics department there was small and the professors seemed to really care about students’ success, versus other larger graduate programs I’d been exposed to where it seemed like students were little more than numbers. Also, my mom had gotten her Masters from CUA in the 70s and loved it, so I thought it would be a good environment for me. I did love CUA and while there, I got the chance to work as a research assistant in the Exoplanets and Stellar Astrophysics Lab at NASA-Goddard. By then, my interests had changed and I no longer wanted to study the physics of black holes. So, my search began for a thesis topic. In the midst of all of this, I read somewhere about Rosaly Lopes and the work she’d done studying volcanism on Io. I thought that it would be interesting to do similar research so I contacted her and asked if she knew of anyone in the Washington DC area who did similar work. She suggested Zibi Turtle and Louise Prockter. So, I spent a summer at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab (APL) working with Louise Prockter and Wes Patterson studying the distribution of chaotic terrain on Europa. I enjoyed the research I did that summer more than any I’d done before and knew that I wanted my thesis research to be centered on Europa. However, I was still in a physics program and as great as the physics department is at CUA, there wasn’t any coursework in the way of planetary science.  Around that same time, the planetary group at APL was beginning collaboration with the Earth & Planetary Sciences department at Johns Hopkins that would have allowed me to take my geology and planetary science coursework at JHU, while still conducting Europa research with an advisor at APL. I really loved the work I was doing at APL, and the people I was working with there, so, armed with an M.S. in physics from CUA, I transferred to the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department at JHU.  That has worked out really well. I wanted to study cryovolcanism and cryomagmatism on icy satellites and it’s been great because my JHU advisor is all knowing when it comes to terrestrial magmatic processes and volcanology, while my APL advisor and the rest of the folks at APL are all knowing when it comes to how these terrestrial processes can be best applied to Europa and other icy bodies. I think I have the best of both worlds.

  1. What is one (or more) opportunities you have taken advantage of that you would recommend to others?

I would have to say that as a woman in a field where women are in the minority, it has really helped me a lot to attend events that are geared toward women in planetary science. From my undergraduate years until now, I have only had one female professor, which is sad, and so it really encourages me to see other women who have been successful in STEM fields. So, I would recommend getting involved with groups like Women in Planetary Science and attending workshops like the recent Moving FORWARD in Space Science. Interacting with women who have been successful in planetary science and with other female graduate students has encouraged me to continue down the path to the Ph.D. In addition, for me personally, groups that support minorities in the sciences have also been important. I recently began attending PROMISE events. PROMISE is the state of Maryland’s AGEP (Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate), which is geared toward increasing the number of underrepresented minorities that obtain graduate degrees in STEM disciplines.  Attending PROMISE events and workshops with other area graduate students has been another great source of support and encouragement for me.   This is again an example of how sometimes the best encouragement I’ve received while pursuing my Ph.D. is to see people who look like me who have completed or are in the process completing their Ph.Ds. Finally, I don’t know if I’d call this an opportunity but, I’ve never been one to choose an internship, educational institution, etc. solely because it looked good on paper. I think it’s important to choose to work in environments where, as long as I work hard, I have the support of those around me. I guess that sort of ties back into the second question of how I chose where to go to graduate school (and undergrad for that matter!). It’s important to be surrounded by the right people.

  1. Do you have any other advice for students and postdocs just starting their career in space science?

Don’t be afraid to ask for a job!!! I fell in love with planetary science while working as a summer intern at APL. However, I obtained that internship by contacting Louise Prockter and asking her if I could be her summer intern, and I’ve been enthralled with icy moons ever since!  I learned from that experience that it’s so important to speak up and actively pursue what you want, even if you feel it’s a bit outside of your area of expertise. At the time I contacted Louise, I was physics major, knew only a little about the field planetary science, and very little geology.  All I knew was that I thought Europa was cool and I wanted to study it. When I went to APL to meet with her for the first time, she told me that she was impressed that I actually took the initiative to seek her out and ask for a summer job. So in that case, speaking up and taking a chance more than worked out to my benefit.

  1. Any idea where you would like to be in 5 or 10 years?

In 5 years, I hope to have finished up a post-doc, and be working at a research lab, studying volcanic and magmatic processes on both terrestrial and icy bodies. I’d also like to be teaching part time at a minority-serving institution. I obtained my B.S. from an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), and the professors I had there were unmatched when it came to giving me the skills I needed for grad school and for life, while also instilling in me the confidence that I could be a successful scientist. I’d like to pass some of that on to the next generation.  I’d also like to be actively engaged in public outreach, especially for groups that are historically underrepresented in the sciences. It would also be nice to be on the cusp of starting a family by then.

  1. Have you found any strategies that work for you when trying to make time for all of the things that are important in your life?

I think the best strategy is first realizing that it is impossible to make time for everything, all the time, and still remain sane! So, setting priorities are important. For example, I am active in public outreach, but for the most part, I’m active on the weekends and/or for a day or two during school breaks. I have also learned to request that folks don’t ask me to do extracurricular stuff on the spur of the moment. My friends and family are very important to me, but they know that I am in graduate school and if there is something big that they want me to do, or be there for, then letting me know at least 3-4 weeks in advance is best. Finally, it may sound corny, but if I am not at peace about doing something, I don’t do it. Lots of things are nice to do and nice to be involved in but if I’m trying to make a decision on whether or not to be (or stay) involved in a task and I’m losing sleep at night because I’m up worried about it, or if it ends up taking major chunks of time away from working on that all important dissertation, I don’t do it.

  1. What do you do when you are taking a break from all of the above?? 🙂

In my spare time, I enjoy taking ballet, reading good fiction, writing, and spending time with family and friends. I also have a newfound obsession with watching Warehouse 13.

Thanks for sharing your story Lynnae!

If you would like to be interviewed (or conduct an interview) for the 51 Women in Planetary Science Series, please contact myself or any of the blog contributors listed at the right.  We have reached Susan’s original goal of conducting 51 interviews, but we would like to continue because it is such a valuable resource for the community.  A greater diversity of interviews means we can reach out to more aspiring female planetary scientists from all backgrounds.

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 30, 2012 5:48 pm

    So glad to see this keep going. And this interview: great.

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