UCAR > Communications > Staff Notes Monthly > February 2001 Search

February 2001

Challenging choices

SN: How did you wind up splitting your time between research and education?

RJ: Back in 1991, I had my first baby, and I had just gotten five papers out that year. And so, of course, I took a little time off, and when I came back, I felt that I wanted to continue my science, but I also wanted to make some contributions in another way. In particular, as my little girl started getting bigger, I didn't want her to have to face being actively discouraged from science because she was female.

SN: Was that something you encountered in your career?

RJ: Yes, definitely. I had another baby in 1993, and then in 1994 an announcement of opportunity came out from NASA to develop resources for the public and for students and teachers using the Internet as a way of getting NASA and other agencies' research data. And that sounded really exciting to me. So I ended up putting in a proposal and being successful—that was for Windows to the Universe (see sidebar). [At that point] I was balancing science and education at sort of a 50-50 level. Then, because I had that grant in place and the Michigan Space Grant Consortium had just been told they needed to find a new director, they decided, Well, Roberta just got a big education grant in place. We'll go ask her to be the director of this. And so I said, OK (laughing). So I started working on getting that program stabilized and developed into a format where it could function smoothly and address NASA's concerns as well. I ended up probably doing 75% education and outreach for a couple of years, there, just because it took that for those two programs. I'm sure it was associated with having kids, and then seeing larger relevance. [Roberta and Tim have three children: Helen (age nine), Philip (seven), and Cormac (three).] That means I have a very full life (laughing).

SN: Do you think your science suffered during those years at 25% time?

RJ: Oh, sure. There's no way of saying it didn't. To be a scientist is a more than full-time job. There's no way that you can keep yourself at the same level of competitiveness with all of the other scientists out there if you're spending 25% of your effort doing it. I was at a university, of course, and part of the role of a research scientist at a university is not only to do research but also to train students in how to do research. Frankly, that's something I think is part of the role of this institution as well. So although a lot of my research ended up being done by students, I don't see that as a problem. I think that was fulfilling my role at the institution. So, yes, it certainly came at a cost. But I've resolved that, although there may be costs associated with it, I'm not going to go on one side or the other, I'm going to do both. Because it's important to me to have an impact on the society in other ways than purely doing science.

SN: Why not just focus on the education side?

RJ: Because science is fun. It's fun to sit down and look at a problem or a question, something that hasn't been answered yet, and try to think of ways of solving the problem. Now, some people who've been doing it continually for all this time may not agree, but it's great fun to sit down and write a computer program (laughing). It's fun to sit down and just do the straightforward analysis work that a research scientist does in understanding their data or their model results in a system, and trying to make sense of it. [I also enjoy] sharing that knowledge with colleagues, working with them to develop bigger understandings.

It's been enriched for me, frankly, by also having the education side going. Because you see these wonderful visualizations and [other research products] that people create, and know just the place where that could be used, where that could have a really big impact on someone else, [beyond] the science community. So I think it's broadened my perspective quite a bit.

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UCAR > Communications > Staff Notes Monthly > February 2001 Search

Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu
Prepared for the Web by Jacque Marshall
Last revised: Mon Feb 5 13:36:05 MST 2001