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Myriam Telus: Find mentors everywhere you go

August 16, 2021

Myriam Telus is an Assistant Professor in the Earth & Planetary Sciences Department at UC-Santa Cruz. Her research focuses on understanding the timing and conditions of solar system formation and early evolution through chemical and isotope analyses of meteorites. In 2020, Dr. Telus received a NASA Planetary Science Early Career Award to continue her meteorite studies and to also develop cosmochemistry and scanning electron microscope facilities at UC-Santa Cruz that will be suitable for storing and analyzing samples returned from the ongoing NASA OSIRIS-REx and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency Hayabusa-2 missions.

Her most recent publications include

Thompson M.A. et al. (2021) Composition of terrestrial exoplanet atmospheres from meteorite outgassing experiments, Nature Astronomy.

Telus M. et al. (2019) Calcite and dolomite formation in the CM parent body: Insight from in situ C and O analyses, Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta.

How did you first become interested in planetary science? What’s your specific research area?

I’m a cosmochemist. I study the chemical and isotopic signatures of meteorites and other extraterrestrial material to understand the chemical and physical evolution of the protoplanetary disk. I learned about cosmochemistry while I was an undergrad in geology at the University of Chicago. I was fascinated by meteorites, ancient rocks from space. Meteorites are all so different in texture and chemistry. I use various geochemical techniques to piece together the story they record of the earliest stages of solar system formation and planet formation.    

Who inspired you?

My family. I come from a large Haitian immigrant family. They have encouraged me every step of the way. But it’s a two-way street. My accomplishments also inspire them. I’ve been able to persevere in the face of adversity and also thrive in my career because of their continuous support. A couple events come to mind when I think of their support: 1) I was the first person in my family to get a college degree. They had a big celebration for me. Their support and enthusiasm pushed me to want to continue my education. 2) My mother came to my first conference talk which was at LPSC. I remember that I mentioned to her that I was nervous about it. She has a very demanding job so I was surprised when she readily offered to go and be there with me. It was nice to share that experience with her.

How did you choose your current institution?

I wanted to work more collaboratively with astronomers to understand the earliest periods of solar system history and planet formation. This is what drew me to apply to the University of California Santa Cruz. The Earth and Planetary Sciences and Astronomy departments at UCSC are located right next to each other, the faculty have strong collaborations, and they meet weekly for seminars or to discuss recently published articles. The close collaboration between EPS and Astronomy has already proven to be very exciting and beneficial for my research.

What classes do you teach?

I teach an undergraduate course on the history and geochemistry of the solar system. The students learn how to interpret geochemical data from meteorites, specifically chronology and thermal history of meteorites and their parent bodies. I also teach an undergraduate course called practical geochemistry. This course offers students the opportunity to learn geochemical techniques in the laboratory. I’ve taught graduate seminars on the chemical evolution of the protoplanetary disk and I’ve taught a summer online course on the geology of national parks for non-majors.

How are students (undergraduate or otherwise) involved in your research?

I am currently advising two graduate students. They are working on projects that aim to understand the timescales and conditions of planetesimal formation and evolution via geochemical, petrographic, and experimental analyses of meteorites. Several undergraduate students have worked with me on projects involving synchrotron data processing, meteorite classification, or meteorite outgassing. Most of the students I have mentored have continued on to graduate school or employment in the field. Helping students successfully take the next step toward their career goals is something I take a lot of pride in.

Is there anything you wish you had negotiated for in your current position?

After the university offered me the faculty position, we began to discuss my needs in more detail. There was so much to consider, especially the costs of laboratory equipment and renovations which I didn’t really think about during graduate school. I wanted to make sure that I had everything I needed to continue to succeed and build a strong research group. I tried to be reasonable with my request and explain everything in detail. The university offered a very competitive startup package and salary. They also provided generous relocation support, course relief, graduate student support, faculty mentors and adequate lab and office space. These were all crucial for helping me get off to a great start here. I successfully negotiated for additional startup funds, but they did not budge on my salary. I think I covered all the bases in my negotiation with the university and I felt really good about the offer in the end.

What do you do for fun?

I enjoy spending time with family and friends, eating good food, traveling, playing music, and watching sci-fi movies and shows. I also really enjoy reading historical fiction novels.

What else should we know?

In grad school, I use to spend lots of time browsing WiPS website. It was a good way to procrastinate because I always felt so encouraged afterwards. I’m glad to be a part of this awesome resource.

Please share any advice you have for students and post-docs just starting their career in space science.  

Keep the love alive: As planetary scientists, we get to work on some of the coolest projects. Do research on topics that you enjoy, work with people you like, go to the conferences that work best for you, make friends, and have fun.

Deal with disappointment in a positive way: Of course, work is not always fun though… sometimes people dismiss our ideas or they are downright rude and condescending, sometimes proposals and papers get rejected and the feedback is painful, or sometimes jobs seem out of reach. Don’t let these things suck the excitement out of your work. There is no way to thrive in any career if you don’t have a way to unload all the negative things, relieve stress and deal with disappointment. Talking to family and friends is usually the first way I deal with something that’s bothering me.

Find the right PhD advisor: You really need to work well with your PhD advisor because this person will write recommendation letters for fellowships, jobs, awards, etc. Look for a PhD advisor who is 1) respectful and supportive, 2) at the forefront of their field, and 3) well-funded. If you don’t have a supportive PhD advisor see recommendation #4 below.

Find mentors everywhere you go: Mentors are people we trust to give us wise advice. We need them at every career stage and for every aspect of our lives. Do you struggle with giving talks, writing or building your network? Do you need someone to discuss research ideas with? You do not have to tackle these on your own. Mentors can help you make a plan to address issues you struggle with or help you advance to the next stage of your career.   

Here are some programs and activities that I’ve participated in that have been really impactful for my professional growth:

Participating in review panels
Giving practice talks
Planetary Science Summer School
Gordon Research Conference on Origin of Solar Systems

Thanks to Myriam for this wonderful interview!

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 16, 2021 8:28 am

    Thanks for this fabulous and inspiring advice Myriam! And thanks to Nicole for conducting this interview! 🙂

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