Dr. Lori Glaze: It’s the science that gets me up in the morning!
Interview conducted by Dr. Lynnae Quick
Dr. Lori Glaze is the Deputy Director of the Solar System Exploration Division at NASA-Goddard Space Flight Center. Her research interests include physical processes in terrestrial and planetary volcanology, atmospheric transport and diffusion processes, and geologic mass movements. Her work focuses on data analysis and theoretical modeling of surface processes on all the terrestrial solar system bodies, particularly the Earth, Venus, Mars, Moon, and Io. She develops statistical, analytical, and data management methods in support of physical process modeling and develops applications of diverse sets of terrestrial and planetary remote sensing data.
Glaze, L.S., Baloga, S.M., Fagents, S.A., and Wright, R., 2014. The Influence of Slope Breaks on Lava Flow Surface Disruption. Journal of Geophysical Research: Sold Earth 119, 1837-1850.
Glaze L. S., and S. M. Baloga. 2013. Simulation of inflated pahoehoe lava flows. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research. [10.1016/j.jvolgeores.2013.01.018]
1. How did you first become interested in planetary science?
I was always interested in space but never really considered planetary science as a career until I was in my early 20’s. I had received Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Physics, and had worked with Steve Self during my Master’s degree on modeling of physical volcanic processes. I was drawn to volcanoes ever since I went to the Pompeii AD79 traveling exhibit as a teenager in 1979. I was also living in Seattle when Mount Saint Helens erupted in 1980. I was really intrigued by that eruption. During my Master’s degree, I had the opportunity to work with Peter Francis. I learned a great deal about remote sensing from Peter. Peter was very interested in planetary science and was probably my first real introduction to planetary science. Anyway, after my Master’s degree, I had an opportunity to go to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to work on an Earth based remote sensing volcano orbiter mission concept. While I was at JPL, I began working with Steve Baloga on several planetary volcanic modeling studies. I was also introduced to Lionel Wilson, world-renowned planetary scientist. After a year at JPL, I decided to do a PhD with Lionel at Lancaster University. By the time I completed my PhD, I was hooked on planetary volcanology. I still do some terrestrial work, but planetary science is incredibly exciting with new missions and data where we’re learning new things all the time.
2. How did your interest in space/planetary science influence your decisions on where to attend college and graduate school?
My interest in planetary science very definitely influenced my decision on where to go for my PhD. My main interest was in theoretical modeling of explosive volcanic eruption plumes. I was pretty sure that was where I wanted to focus my PhD work. Working with Lionel offered the perfect combination of modeling expertise, terrestrial experience, as well as planetary science knowledge.
3. After completing your Ph.D., did you do a post-doc? If so, at what institution(s) were you a post-doc and what was the nature of your research?
I never technically did a post-doc. I followed a somewhat unusual path but somehow it worked out. I was very lucky in that I was able to continue working at JPL while I pursued my PhD. This meant that I was getting real work experience concurrently with my degree. Also, while I was a graduate student, I was encouraged by my colleagues at JPL to write a PI proposal to the newly established Venus Data Analysis Program (VDAP); this was about the time of the Magellan arrival at Venus. By the time I finished my PhD, I had won funding from VDAP. With my PhD and funding in hand, I was able to get a job as a visiting Scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
4. Did you always have a desire to work at a research institution like NASA-Goddard? What factors drew you to working on the research side as opposed to pure academia?
I don’t ever remember making a conscious decision to work at a NASA center rather than academia. I enjoy teaching and think I would have enjoyed working at a university. But, the first two jobs that came along were both at NASA centers. I also really enjoyed doing theoretical research. After working at GSFC for a couple of years, I decided to work for Steve Baloga’s small company, called Proxemy Research. I was incredibly lucky, and was able to secure enough funding to support myself full time on research. I guess after awhile it just seemed like the right path.
5. What is the most enjoyable aspect of your job and what do you feel has been the most challenging aspect?
By far the most enjoyable aspect of my job is actually doing the science. Developing new models, applying them to real data, and developing new inferences. What I didn’t realize as a graduate student is that the actual science is only a small part of the job!! Most of the time, I’m writing proposals, writing papers, or doing administration for these projects. In more recent years, I’ve also been more involved with management of other scientists. While not my favorite part of the job, I do get a great deal of satisfaction from trying to maintain an environment where other scientists can be most productive. The most challenging thing I’ve done as a scientist has been to develop planetary mission proposals. I’ve been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to take a significant role in writing several such proposals. It is very demanding mentally, and exhausting, as there never seems to be enough time. But, because it is such a challenge, it is also very rewarding to see the final product. Although none of the missions I’ve been involved with have won, I am very proud of each and every proposal.
6. Being Deputy Director of the Solar System Exploration Division at a large lab like NASA-Goddard, and also being involved in several research projects, I know you do about a million things each day. How do you find a balance between the management side of your job and the research side?
I really enjoy all aspects of my job, both the science and the management, but finding a balance can be a real challenge. If I’m not careful, I can spend my entire day running from one fire to another. The thing I try to always remember is that it’s the science that gets me up in the morning! One strategy that works for me is to come in a little early and block off the first couple hours of each day to make a little progress on some science (ignoring email and phone messages). The best thing I’ve found about starting my day with the fun stuff is that I’m able to continue making progress throughout the day, even in short 5-10 minute chunks because I’m not starting cold.
7. In addition to conducting research and being the Deputy Director of the Solar System Exploration Division at NASA-Goddard, you also serve as the Chair of the Venus Exploration Analysis Group (VEXAG). What is that like and how did you first get involved in Venus mission planning?
To be honest, I was happy working away at Proxemy Research on my research projects. However, at some point, I started talking to Jim Garvin at NASA Goddard. I had met Jim way back while I was still at JPL, and knew him from my Visiting Scientist days at Goddard. Jim was thinking about proposing a Venus mission and asked me to get involved. Somehow, everything grew from that. I really enjoyed working with Jim and working on the mission proposals. Before I knew it, I was able to get a job at GSFC and was working on several Venus mission concepts. I have really enjoyed working on the mission concepts. One of my favorite aspects of working on the mission concepts is the detailed interaction with the engineering teams. I’ve gotten to work with lots of phenomenal engineers. I never cease to be impressed at their creativity and persistence. They have all had the attitude that every problem can be solved. I have enjoyed learning about the challenges of spaceflight missions and really enjoy working side by side with the engineers to come up with solutions. My participation on VEXAG also grew from my increased interest in Venus exploration. VEXAG is a great group of community scientists with a shared interest in learning more about Venus. Being chair of VEXAG has provided an opportunity to broaden my understanding of Venus beyond my own interests and to try and communicate the needs of the community to NASA and beyond.
8. Do you have any advice for graduate students, postdocs, or early career scientists in search of their first permanent job?
My biggest piece of advice for graduate students and early career scientists is to be flexible and alert. My mother always told me that good luck happened when preparation takes advantage of opportunities. My interpretation of this is that you have to constantly be learning new things and honing your skills so that when opportunities come along you are ready. But an important part is being willing to take a risk and try things that may not have been in your original plan. The people I have met along the way have all had a huge influence on the direction my career has taken. I always felt like I was just along for the ride and loving every minute of it!
9. Do you have any advice for maintaining the all important work-life balance?
Work-life balance is challenge for everyone, but especially for women. There is a tremendous amount of pressure to be excellent in your job, while still being the perfect mom and wife. I have been lucky that my husband is enormously supportive of my career. We have moved twice because of my job, and he has never complained. All that said, as much as I enjoy my career, my two kids are without a doubt my most important responsibility. I always put them first. One way that I have personally tried to deal with work life balance has been to keep work at work and home at home. I do not talk to my husband and kids while I’m at work, and I don’t take care of home issues while I’m at work. In a flexible research position, this can be very tempting. However, the converse is that when I’m at home, I do not check my work email, nor do I work on things in the evenings and on the weekends. When I am at home, I am 100% mom. I carpool the kids, I was a Girl Scout leader; I made costumes for their performances, and worked backstage for every show (both my girls were in ballet and theater). I take my mom job as seriously as my professional career. My kids are nearly grown now, and I am so glad that I took the time to spend all my home time focused on them.
Thank you to Lynnae for conducting this interview, and to Lori for taking the time to provide these wonderful insights!
I regularly receive e-mails from various students and mentors who are extremely grateful these interviews are here. If you would like to conduct an interview or be interviewed to continue the series, please contact me at kelsi.singer at gmail.com.