Meet: Mary Williams
Animal Care Facility Project Manager
What I do
I am responsible for making sure the ACF runs smoothly, that it supports
everyone we need to support, and that the animals are all well taken care
of. We want them to be comfortable, have good nutrition and be warm and
dry. I also need to make sure that all the staff is properly trained in
how to take care of the different types of animals. (Monkeys require different
care than rats and mice.)
In addition, I provide input to researchers and engineers who want to
use animals. I keep up to date on the current laws and husbandry so I
am able to let researchers and engineers know what they need to do to
keep their animals comfortable and healthy.
My Career Journey
I always knew I wanted a career working with animals. When I was in
sixth grade, my best friend and I designed the clinic we wanted to have
when we grew up.
I decided to go to UC Davis and get an animal science degree and then
try to get into veterinary school. While I was at Davis, I took a laboratory
animal class and really liked it. I decided that I didn't want to go to
vet school and instead, after I graduated, I took a job as an animal caretaker
After about a year, I was asked if I would be interested in training
monkeys for space flight. I spent the next fourteen years working with
squirrel monkeys and rhesus monkeys. I trained them to use tap levers,
play computer games, and get used to the cages they would fly in. That
job was interesting and fun. I got to work with the animals almost every
day and some of them became pretty tame. I had one squirrel monkey that
would climb into my labcoat pocket for banana pellets!
During all those years working with the monkeys, I continued taking
classes and going to workshops so I could pass the certification tests
offered by the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS).
I am certified as a Laboratory Animal Technologist.
Over the last few years, NASA decided to not use as many monkeys. When
the project manager position opened up, I took it. Now I work more with
the people than with the animals. It's a lot more challenging!
Preparation for Career
I was always interested in animals. I read every dog, horse, vet story
that I could find. I studied hard in school so I could go to a good university.
I always went to the veterinarian's office when any of my pets were taken
My family always encouraged me to find a career that I would enjoy.
It's important to like what you're doing if you're going to be doing it
for 30 years or more!
Likes/Dislikes about career
I think the most positive aspect of my career was NASA's policy to have
the monkeys live out their natural lives. It was nice knowing that the
animals we worked with would live for a long time after we were finished.
One of the squirrel monkeys that flew on the space shuttle retired to
the Denver zoo.
Another positive aspect is the travel. I've been to Paris and Toulouse,
France, and Moscow, Russia, as well as, all over the United States. I
never would have been to most of those places on my own.
Negative aspects include some of the situations the animals are put
in. I hate for any animal to be hurt or scared. Sometimes though, you
can't prepare an animal for what is going to happen. It's hard to simulate
the launch of the Space Shuttle, so the monkeys may have been frightened
when that happened. I also don't like it when people talk about the animals
as if they're another piece of equipment.
At NASA, we try really hard to get everyone to understand that the animals
they are using are living things that feel pain and fear. We try to alleviate
as much of that fear and pain as we can.
Another negative aspect is dealing with the activist groups that have
lots of time and money to protest any use of animals (including research
on many diseases like cancer and AIDS). It's hard to stay quiet when you
know a group like that is spreading misinformation about what you do.
School is the most important thing. Work hard in math and science, but
don't forget English. I spend a lot of my time writing procedures, training
plans, reports, and other documents. If you are interested in a career
with animals, you should try to find things you can do like volunteering
at an animal shelter or working with a veterinarian. Also, practice "people
skills." Try to learn how to deal with all different kinds of people.
If you don't really like someone, try being nice to them anyway. It's
important to always be able to work with many different types of people.
I am married and have two sons, Kyle (15 yrs) and Kevin (13 yrs). We
have two cats, two dogs (a rottweiler and a curly coated retriever), two
parakeets and a tank of fish. Kevin and I are taking our dogs to obedience
classes and enter them in obedience trials. My rottweiler earned her Companion
Dog title and is working towards Companion Dog Excellent.
I love horseback riding and wish that someday I might have my own horse.
I try to stay current in the many changes and advances in the research
animal care field. We are always trying new ideas to provide environmental
enrichment to the monkeys at work. I hope to keep working in this field
for many more years (at least until my sons finish college!).
To learn more, see my chats
January 22, l998