SN: How did you wind up splitting your time between research and
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
successfulthat 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%
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.
In this issue...
Other issues of Staff Notes Monthly
Edited by Bob Henson,
Prepared for the Web by Jacque Marshall
Last revised: Mon Feb 5 13:36:05 MST 2001