Meet: Rosalind A. Grymes, Ph.D.
NASA Astrobiology Institute Associate Director
In 1998, at the time this
profile was first published on Quest, Dr. Grymes was the Outreach
Program Manager for NASA's Life Sciences Division
Who I am:
I like private time, thinking time, and quiet.
My favorite "hobby" is reading, but my most rewarding activities
are those that involve people. I love working on teams, I treasure the
time I spend with my husband and daughter, and feeling that I've been
successful in those interactions is what I work for. I am very details-oriented,
a perfectionist, but I'm happiest when I'm juggling dozens of different
projects, even though I know that some details get lost and some things
aren't perfect. Life is a balancing act.
I like roller coasters, real ones and mental ones. I get involved in some
things because the accepted wisdom is that "It can't be done". That just
makes me want to do it. I like the challenge of changing things. I always
feel at least tempted to take the opposite viewpoint in any argument,
no matter what the subject is. The downside of this is part of the "contrary"
adjective above, I can be outspoken, argumentative and hard-headed. The
upside is that by really taking up both sides of an issue, I can see the
strengths and weaknesses of both viewpoints and better negotiate either
is a warm puppy..."
I guess that tells you what decade
spanned my formative years, and also that I have a warm puppy at home.
She's a Norwegian Elkhound mix, and she eats pagers and cell phones. I
like to think she's trying to tell me to slow down when she does that,
but she could just be naughty.
My personal challenges:
After my daughter was born, I spent five years at home with her, taking
a break from my career in the middle of my postdoctoral years. My husband
reminded me lots of times that I should stay involved in my work and keep
in touch with my colleagues, but I was too wrapped up in my baby. Every
year, even every six months, I'd re-evaluate going back to work, and look
into childcare options. For five years, I always concluded that I'd stay
with her as the primary caregiver. In a big way, that was selfish on my
part-I just loved doing it. When she was steadily in pre-school, I started
the road back to my career in science research, writing résumés
and getting an answering machine for all the call-backs I expected. Day
after day, no messages were on the machine, no letters inviting me for
an interview. Having lunch with a friend (who was working) one day, he
suggested, supportively, that maybe my home-life decisions were really
the right ones, and there were lots of ways to contribute in the workforce;
maybe a research career wasn't in my future any more. When I heard that
conclusion spoken, although it was something I'd been thinking but not
really facing squarely, I reacted. I KNEW at that point that I WAS getting
back into the laboratory, whatever it took. That was my world, and I wanted
it back, and I was going to get it. I redoubled my efforts, I learned
to take the disappointments and got back on the search. I took another
six months or so, but I got a position at Stanford University, continuing
as a postdoctoral student, and later became a research associate. Once
I realized how much I wanted it, I KNEW I would.
My career challenges:
That's easy. Throughout my school years, my training, and my career I've
always done the hard thing, and usually the hard way. In middle school
and high school, I loved English and writing, but that was easy for me,
so I concentrated on what was hard: math and science. I remember getting
a calculus exam back in college once where the professor had remarked
in the margins, on a problem that I had solved correctly, that he'd never
seen a student use a proof as circuitous or difficult as the one I had
chosen. Other students also got the right answer, and got it easier, but
the approach that's natural to me seems complex to everyone else. I just
keep looking for the most challenging path.
I'm a wild animal trainer, and I work under the big top. I don't get a
whip and chair to ward off attacks, because the whip/chair combo would
be a safety hazard. I climb into the cage with only my bare hands and
native intelligence. I work the "acts" that will support science
investigations, develop and choreograph acts that help bring new performers
together, and encourage the audience to get into the ring and become involved.
Dangerous?? Sure. But Danger is my middle name.
[In 1999 Dr. Grymes joined the Astrobiology Institute
as their Assistant Director. She gives us an update of her circus metaphor
in this parenthetical note: The whole show is NASA, the big top is the
NASA Astrobiology Institute, the arena is our office at NAI Central, the
talented, wild animals are my colleagues and the NAI's members. I work
with a great group of associates, the staff at NAI Central (the enterteiners),
and you KNOW who the audience isthat's you!]
Likes/Dislikes about career:
I love the variety of things I get to do, the people I work with, the
feeling that the activities I'm involved in are of benefit to people,
and being involved in the adventure of the space program. I could do without
budget spreadsheets, strategic plans, management reorganizations, annual
reports, and briefings with Powerpoint slides.
[In 2001, Dr. Grymes updates this vision: Most important
is the knowledge that my efforts are directly affecting the creation and
forward progress of a scientific field of inquiryastrobiologyand
one with high public interest an engagement. I love the variety of things
I get to do, the people I work with, and beign involved in the adventure
of the space program.]
Both my parents have been very influential in my decisions and experiences.
They emigrated to the United States with no one to rely on but themselves.
They both created professional careers, one in engineering and one in
teaching. With little "extra" cash, we rarely bought books,
but they encouraged me to be an avid reader. I remember weekly trips to
the library (more often in the summer), and each time I would check out
my limit. At home, the books that my father wanted so badly that he'd
buy them were all on science fiction. The books my mother acquired were
all on education. At one time, I combined the two by running NASA's Life
Sciences Outreach program; science fiction made reality, and outreach/teaching
to all ages.
I'd like to be an actress and hold elected office.
My thoughts about space exploration:
Since I grew up reading Science Fiction, and always choose the challenging
thing, it feels natural for me to see space as the next frontier. Whether
or not we share our universe with other life forms, I believe that exploring
our neighborhood is our destiny. I was excited to be hired at NASA and
to become a part of that destiny. Today, I believe that the job I do is
bringing us a little bit closer to that future.
I have a family; a husband who is a computer scientist and entrepreneur,
a daughter who is a soccer star, singer/actress, and has the debating
potential to be a lawyer, and a dog of mixed heritage. [NASA has taught me to
scuba dive so that I could visit the Scott Carpenter Station underwater
Habitat. I love diving, and may take it up as a hobby. Too bad the water
around Northern California is so cold, brrrrrr. NASA has also sent me
travelling, to conferences and to discussions with international colleagues.
I like that, too. In a two-month period in 2000, I was in Santorini, Greece
(site of an enormous volcanic explosion thousand of years ago, and still
an active area) and on the big island of Hawaii, where the observatory
on Mauna Kea shares the island with an active volcano. Constant reminders
that we live on an active, living (and very special) planet.]
Learn More From My Chats:
This profile was first published in 1998
Last Updated : September 18, 2001
(See information in square brackets)