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Meet: Joan Vernikos

Director Life Sciences Division
NASA Headquarters

Who I am - words that describe me:
Systematic plodder: I eventually achieve my goals through tenacity and determination.

Problem solver: I like solving problems, and I am good at it! I view problems from the perspective of the glass being half full, not half empty. My husband says a perfect epitaph for my tombstone would be, "There must be a way!"

Understanding: I listen to other people and try to put myself in their shoes and understand the situation from their perspective.

My personal challenges:
Challenge is essential to living. Without challenge you are not alive!! My research background is in stress and the stress response. My research has shown that you need a certain amount of stimulation to be "normal." Too much or too little stimulation is not good for you. I am basically lazy so I seek challenges to prevent myself from being lazy.

In my 30s, I learned to ski. Six years ago, I started to learn how to play tennis. Last October, my husband strongly encouraged me to learn how to ride a bicycle. These are challenges I chose to put in my life to balance the stress of my career. Mid-life my husband and I started a chocolate shop making fresh cream truffles. Neither of us had any idea how to make them before we started, but it was important to me to succeed at something completely different from my career.

My career challenges:
Meeting challenge with a positive attitude is important to all that I do.

Career likes/dislikes:
Career likes - My job is about making discovery possible. This is very exciting.

Dislikes - Bureaucracy.

Challenges - Reducing unnecessary problems.

Influences:
Nora Zaimis, a professor of pharmacology at the University of London, where I got my Ph.D., greatly influenced me. She was an outstanding scientist as well as an excellent role model for women, demonstrating the importance of presenting a polished, professional appearance when interfacing with colleagues and with the public. She was extraordinary in scientific accomplishment and was one elegant lady.

Future goals:
I'd like to write a book on aging. Why? This would be a way to share results of research I have done and perhaps help change concepts about aging, e.g., what is inevitable and what can be avoided. It would help us to understand how we can take charge of our aging.

My thoughts about space exploration:
I came to it from the space research perspective. I continue to be interested in space exploration because I see the enormous potential to be gained from understanding more about the role gravity plays in our lives. We have barely scratched the surface.

Personal information:
I have two wonderful grown children, one terrific husband, and no pets. I am trilingual, being proficient in Greek, French, and English. I would like to publish my chocolate recipes!


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