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Summary from the WiPS Networking event at LPSC 2019

May 12, 2019

Thanks up front to our wonderful speakers, everyone who helped organize the event this year, and to everyone who attended!  Dr. Nicolle Zellner led the organization this year, but the full team listed below helped with many aspects of the event. Big thanks to the AAS Division for Planetary Sciences for continuing to sponsor the event. It wouldn’t be such a fabulous event without all of those things!

The below post was thoughtfully written by Dr. Rajani Dhingra:

The Women in Planetary Science (WiPS) event this year celebrated the women scientists who have contributed to Planetary Science since the Apollo Era. The panelists invited were Dr. Carle Pieters (Brown University), Andrea Mosie (Johnson Space Center), and Judy Allton (Johnson Space Center). Emily Lakdawalla (Planetary Society) was the panel moderator.

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Dr. Nicolle Zellner started the event by remembering Dr. Susan Neiber, who provides the inspiration for these annual events. She also advertised the Workforce Development poster session which included several posters that highlight advancements and efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in the field of Planetary Science.

Emily started the panel by asking what the panelists’ first LPSC experience was like?

Judy Allton reminded me of Sherlock Holmes when she said, she curates samples that people don’t/can’t see – the GENESIS solar wind samples. She went on to share a picture of the first LPSC in 1971. There was one woman in the picture who actually was the wife of a participant who was vision impaired. She helped him read the slides.

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Dr. Pieters, with her bright smile and equally bright eyes, shared that when Apollo 11 landed on the Moon she was in her first job as an astronomer. She was involved with binding all of the Apollo pictures in a binder and found Moon and Moon-shots cool.

Andrea Mosie has a wise sense of humour and lit up the room with her wisdom and experience alike. She shared that she has been involved with lunar sample curation for 43 years. Her first LPSC was in 1975.

Sharing information about her career path, Andrea said she initially wanted to be a medical doctor but realized she would not be fond of the years of study it would take to actually be established as one. She majored in Chemistry and Maths and had offers from various companies including Schlumberger, yet she took the NASA job because she had no car and her sister and brother-in-law worked at NASA JSC and she could hitchhike a ride with them.

I am glad she chose JSC!

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The panelists were posed another question about sharing their experiences handling the lunar samples and the stories were amusing.

I particularly found Dr. Pieters’ story hilarious. She shared how the lunar dust interacts with light and fluoresces. They had to open the carefully created vial further away from light and it used to be so nerve-wracking to her. She reminded herself to not sneeze on the dust but in that she would even forget to breathe!

Judy shared how opening each initial sample tube was a learning experience for sending better sample collectors to the Moon. For example, the Apollo 11 sample holders couldn’t penetrate too deeply below the lunar surface and they got samples only from the top 10 cm. That helped them change the design of the sample collector for the future missions. She shared the challenge of simple opening the sample tubes and the training needed to do this effectively.

Andrea shared that she had to be “air bathed” in two cabinets, had to wear three gloves (of which one was a neoprene glove) and work with Teflon or aluminum tweezer with all those gloves. That does sound cumbersome. She shared a story that her nephews and nieces after observing the Moon would come and tell her, “We saw your moon last night”.

To them, their Aunt had claimed the Moon…and rightly, in the lunar curation facility, the Moon did belong to her!

Emily had an insightful question about what things had changed since the beginning of their careers, what things hadn’t changed enough, and what changes did they expect to see in the future?

Andrea said that in her experience, she has seen more people of color being involved – not only at LPSC but also at Johnson Space Center. She remembered that in 1970s, she and her sister were the only two professional degreed people of color but now there are more Hispanics and other people of different origins. That is indeed a positive change.

Dr. Pieters remembered that her first LPSC was sometime back in 1972 and then there were no multiple parallel sessions. She fondly remembered the small-ness of the past LPSCs yet was amused by the amount of good science that she sees in LPSCs now with five parallel sessions going on. It does make her nostalgic, though, remembering how LPSC was 30 years ago.

Emily, on behalf of the audience, sought advice from the panelists for succeeding and thriving in scientific careers.

Dr. Pieters said that when one hits hard times, it’s beneficial to keep your sight on what the end goal is, and in the journey, remember to celebrate the small wins. Andrea and Judy said that being procedural, along with food and laughter, helped them through their rough spots. They both emphasized the importance of having good colleagues and a sense of community at work.

The panel was then open for public questions and answers :

Some of the interesting questions were about the panelists’ tenacity and impostor syndrome.

Judy suggested surrounding oneself with supportive people, while Dr. Pieters said to remember that things pass, and difficulties would soon pass, too. Dr. Pieters said the way to deal with impostor syndrome is to do the thing that scares you. She shared that she would be scared to give public presentations earlier on, but practice has allowed her to overcome that fear and she gives public talks fear-free! To this Andrea shared that she is still terrified about giving public talks yet, in her words, ‘All you can do is all you can do and all you can do is enough!

To the question of role models, Andrea said her mom graduated from high school and could have been anything but she chose to provide for the family. In her words, ‘Every generation needs to help the next’.

All the panelists, including Emily, reinforced the importance of scientific outreach and social media.

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  • This year’s organizing crew: Nicolle Zellner, Sarah Noble, Louise Procktor (and the fabulous LPI staff!), Jennifer Grier, Mallory Kinczyk, Rajani Dhingra, Kelsi Singer, Jen Piatek, Lilian Ostrach, and Zibi Turtle.
  • For more on strategies for overcoming impostor syndrome, see the WiPS summary from 2018.
  • For information about scientific outreach and social media, see here.
  • If you are interested in participating in planning for next year’s event, or if you have ideas for future topics, please contact Kelsi Singer.
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