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Dr. Darby Dyar: The 2016 GSA G.K. Gilbert Award Winner

October 7, 2016

I was present for Dr. Dyar’s G. K. Gilbert Award citation and award acceptance speech at the 2016 GSA Planetary Geology Division conference banquet.  I was moved by her speech and I know others were as well.  She was kind enough to share her thoughts and career path trials and triumphs with us here.

Here is the award citation by Dr. Molly Mccanta :

I am honored to present the 2016 GSA Planetary Geology Division’s G.K. Gilbert Award to Darby Dyar. Darby is being honored for her “outstanding contributions to the solution of a fundamental problem(s) of planetary geology in its broadest sense, including planetary geology, geochemistry, mineralogy, petrology, and the field of meteoritics.” Darby has pretty much covered all of those. I’m not sure I can do her justice in a short citation, but I’ll try.

Darby received her Ph.D. in 1985 at MIT from the great Roger Burns. There began her passion for calibrating spectroscopy observations using the most exacting standards possible, and for connecting the interpretations to real physics, optics, composition, and conditions. Her 1985 review paper on using Mössbauer spectroscopy to analyze Fe valence and coordination in minerals and glasses continues to be cited hundreds of times per year. This is how I met Darby. She showed up at my poster on Fe3+ in pyroxene at my very first LPSC. She suggested coming to Brookhaven to use the synchrotron. I was there during the next session! And thus began a very fruitful collaboration.

In addition to her Mössbauer research, Darby has published more than 200 peer-reviewed papers analyzing geologic materials using Raman, LIBS, XANES, and FTIR. She has created huge databases of material measurements that she maintains in easily accessible manners and shares freely. She is always open to analyzing samples for any who ask.

Darby has written two textbooks that cover mineralogy and geostatistics. Both have been widely adopted in college classrooms, introducing her methods and insights to students everywhere. Her exacting science and insightful questions have changed our understanding of geologic processes on Mars, Venus, the Moon, meteorite parent bodies, and Earth.

Perhaps most astonishing is that Darby has accomplished all of this while at Mount Holyoke College, a liberal arts college with no graduate program. Many of the letter writers for this award expressed utter astonishment at this achievement! Such a high research output, without graduate students, on top of a full-time undergraduate teaching load is almost unheard of. Darby has supervised 30 theses and countless research projects. Her teaching and mentorship have helped foster many of the next generation of geoscientists.

Darby has also been a tireless advocate for women in science. I cannot stress enough the outsized effect Darby has had on women geoscientists, both through her work at Mount Holyoke, a women-only college, and with women throughout the scientific community. I’m not sure how many of you were in the session this morning and noticed all the pictures people showed of Darby and her research groups over the years. What stood out most prominently was the number of women Darby has had working with her. So many of us have benefitted from working with her over the years, whether writing grants or papers, simply picking her brain for ideas, or leaning on her for moral support. There is a lot of research out showing the difficulties that women face in STEM fields. Darby understands this and has faced many of those negatives during her career. She stands as a beacon to those of us moving through the system, as someone who has taken some hits and not only remained standing, but thrived. She is truly the greatest champion to have on your side in both scientific and personal matters.

Darby gives freely of her time, expertise, and data to anyone who asks. She has created a relentlessly positive, collaborative atmosphere in which all manner of people, from undergraduate to senior scientist, thrive. She has a brain that never stops generating questions and ways to answer them. The perfect illustration of this to me occurred this past summer. While at Darby’s house for a picnic, Darby was introduced to a friend of a friend who was a microbiologist. Darby talked with her for an hour or so. They submitted a proposal together several weeks later! I stand in awe of that ability to look at all kinds of scientific fields and isolate the big issues. Darby is a world-class researcher, teacher, mentor, and friend, and a consummate team player. She is truly deserving of the G.K. Gilbert award.

And Dr. Darby Dyar’s acceptance speech:

I am humbled to receive this award, and to join the ranks of those who precede me in this honor.

It is difficult to put into words how much this award means to me, because mine has been a career filled with twists and turns. Graduating from Wellesley College and mentored there by Meg Thomson, I thought a woman could do anything. I was right, but I had no idea then what it meant to be dealt “the woman card.” I was harassed at three successive institutions. I went to the University of Oregon, where I was the 2nd women faculty member ever to be hired as tenure-track in the sciences. My first office there was in the basement of a teaching building (away from all the other faculty), and my first lab was literally in a janitor’s closet. Eight largely miserable years later, I moved back east and found a home at West Chester University, where I was inspired to be a better teacher, though their teaching load was 8 courses per year. I commuted 600 miles per week for five years, got married, and had two children. Then I couldn’t take being away from my kids any more, so I quit my West Chester job, which I dearly loved, on the verge of tenure. I started over, and was a part-time visiting faculty member (the dreaded “adjunct”) at five different schools for seven years, which serendipitously allowed me to stay home when my kids were young. I was finally hired to teach astronomy at Mount Holyoke, and tenured at the age of 45. I spent the next ten years balancing teaching four classes per year, doing my research, and taking care of my aging parents and my two wonderful children. Quite honestly, it’s been a grind. But with everyone out of the house now, I’m excited to finally plan the next 20 years of my career and life on my own terms. This award propels me toward that future with newfound affirmation and enthusiasm!

Many times, I was tempted to drop out of science. But I was motivated by my desire to give the next generation what I myself so badly lacked: a helping hand. I had so few role models! And I truly wanted to make things better for the next generation. There are still far too few successful women scientists who mix raising their children and taking care of their parents with teaching full time and mentoring students and pursuing vigorous research programs. Imperfect though my career has been, I wanted to be one of those role models to show that if you have passion for your research, you can overcome a lot. Knowing that so many people are looking up to me helps me get out of bed in the morning, and try always to set a good example.

This award also recognizes that it is possible (easy, even) do world-class research with undergraduate students. Many of my most interesting research directions have come from undergraduate students who see no boundaries between disciplines, including my work on mineral-microbe interactions and in the field of machine learning and spectroscopy.  Their willingness and enthusiasm to take on any task, from crushing rocks to crushingly-complicated spreadsheets, in a constant source of inspiration for me. Those of us who focus on undergraduate education lay a strong foundation for many who succeed in our profession: we teach our own labs, grade our own papers, and spend hours supporting our students. Yet there is nothing in that list of priorities that prevents us from being passionate about our work and doing world-class research. I am happy to accept this award on behalf of the thousands of us in the teaching ranks who use research not only as an end to itself, but as a vehicle to teach the next generation what it means to be a scientist.

I want to give thanks to many people. Roger Burns convinced me that an art history major could be an MIT geochemist; I was honored to be his last Ph.D. student, and I strive to honor his legacy through my work. Charlie Guidotti, Greg Harper, Jerry Delaney, and Steve Mackwell were early friends and supporters. George Rossman has been a career-long source of wisdom. Janice Bishop dragged me back into planetary science after Roger passed away. My “adopted brother“ Mickey Gunter and local compatriots Tekla Harms and Sheila Seaman have helped me survive the past ten difficult years. Caleb Fassett has inspired me and preserved my sanity over the past five years. Many, many collaborators (half the people in this room) have pushed me to learn new things and think in an ever more integrative fashion when faced with new and different problems to solve; in addition to those mentioned above, I especially thank Molly McCanta, Karl Hibbitts, Carle Pieters, Rachel Klima, and Sue Smrekar. All of my students (too numerous to name, but Eli Sklute deserves special mention for longevity) have motivated and sustained me. My children, Duncan and Lindy Crowley, always believe in me absolutely. To all these people, I give my thanks.

In closing, I’d like to suggest that this year, this award recognizes that you can put your family and students first and your career a distant third, and still make fundamental and lasting contributions to science. I am proud to have made a difference in so many people’s lives while also contributing to planetary science in a fundamental and valued way. I will continue to aspire to leave this discipline a better place than I found it, not just for women, but for all those who seek to couple their passions for family and science in a balanced way. Thank you so very much for this tremendous honor and recognition of my work.

Congrats Dr. Dyar!!  And thank you for sharing insights gathered throughout both your career path and life outside of planetary science.

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