Meet: David Liskowsky
Program Scientist at NASA Headquarters and
Neurolab Special Projects Scientist
What I do:
At NASA heaquarters we help manage the science research programs that
NASA does in the Life Sciences division. That means that we manage both
the research that NASA does on the ground (because we give money to people
who are at universities to do experiments) and we also manage the research
that NASA does in space on the space shuttle and other types of space
What it means to manage science: we get to pick the experiments that
get done. We have what's called the peer review process where people send
us their ideas and proposals and then we have other scientists judge them
and tell us which are the best ones we should be doing and that's how
we select which experiments get done.
Another part of our job is called outreach: letting people know about
the work that we do and how it's important to them. That includes Congress,
because they're the ones that pay the bills.
For Neurolab I've been doing a mixture of those things: I assist in
managing the mission. My specific job has a lot to do with the outreach
activities letting people (like the public, Congress or other scientists)
know about the mission and what science is going to be done on the mission.
My Career Journey
I've always been interested in the space program. Like a lot of other
people, I think it's one of the most exciting things that this country
does. I've only been with NASA a short time, this is my fifth year.
Before that I was a scientist in a laboratory. I used to do research,
and I was a professor at a university. About 10 years ago I left that
job to come to Washington to work at another job. Then about five years
ago there was an opportunity to come over to NASA. My training is in neuroscience,
so when I heard about the Neurolab mission, I was really interested. I
had the opportunity to talk with some of the people here at NASA, and
I was able to come on at the start of the planning for the Neurolab mission.
I've been able to use my neuroscience training in helping to do some of
the management on that mission. Now I do a lot of other jobs here at headquarters
Preparation for Career
As a child I was always interested in science, and I used to play around
with chemistry sets and microscopes my parents bought me. I used to try
to build bombs in my basement and things like that. I always knew that
when I grew up I wanted to do something related to science, particularly
biology, the science I was most interested in.
My curiosity factor has always been high. I have always been interested
and curious about living things and how they work, like how our bodies
work, etc. I would get books out of the library about science. As a kid
I used to read books that told you all about things like "What's an amphibian?"
or "What's the solar system about?"
In terms of my interest in the space program, I grew up during the early
days of the space program, during Mercury, Gemini,and Apollo. It caught
everyone's imagination, especially mine since growing up is when you're
most impressionable. So the space program has always been something that
I was interested in and excited about.
Likes/Dislikes about career
My favorite part of the job is doing the stuff related to space flight
- the actual managing of the science that we do on missions and finding
out the results of the experiments that we do in space. That's the most
exciting thing, because it's directly related to going into space. Any
work directly related to flight, like the Neurolab mission, and any other
missions that we're working on; making sure that the science we do is
done correctly - that's the most exciting part of the job for me!
Sometimes it's a lot of hard work. Many times when you try to do your
job there are a lot of other factors that have to be taken into consideration.
Sometimes you just want to do the science, but there are other things,
beyond just doing the science-and getting it done, that have to be dealt
If there's a career that you're interested in, read as much as you can
about it, and don't be afraid to take chances. If it's something you're
really interested in, do whatever you think you need to do in order to
prepare yourself to be successful.
I've had a number of different jobs and that's been interesting. Your
working career doesn't necessarily have to be just one job. The job can
change and you might use the same information in different types of jobs.
You shouldn't be afraid of that; sometimes that's fun because you get
to do different things. It's not like you decide to be a doctor, you immediately
become a doctor and then you're a doctor for the rest of your life. Your
career can change in a given area and there are a lot of different things
you can do with your education.
One of the things that has always helped me the most, and will help
everyone no matter what they do, doesn't have anything to do with science:
It's learning to how to speak and write English well. When I was in high
school I had the same English teacher for two years and he insisted that
every weekend we write a composition about something. I used to hate it,
because every weekend I had to write a 600-word composition. In retrospect,
it was probably one of the most important experiences I ever had: how
to write correctly (though I'm still not excellent at it). Being able
to communicate is one of the most important things you can do, whether
you want to be a scientist, or a lawyer, a businessman or whatever.
I like sports; especially golf, skiing and racquet ball. I play saxophone
in a community band, which is a lot of fun. I also like photography and
traveling, and I still do a lot of reading.