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Astrobiologist Lena Vincent on the origins of life.

Astronaut's Daughter
Do alien life forms exist? Will they look like the ones in the movies? Hear from an expert, for a change, with guest Astrobiologist Lena Vincent.
Show transcript
00:00
Hi, I'm Vanessa.
00:00
Welcome to astronaut's daughter on today's episode.
00:03
I talked to Lana Vincent who is an astrobiologist and science
00:07
communicator.
00:08
We bonded on all things tiktok.
00:10
She makes Tik Toks about her field and it's so so cool.
00:14
I hope you enjoy listening more about her story.
00:35
Hi, Lena.
00:35
Thank you so much for being here on my podcast.
00:38
Astronaut's daughter.
00:39
I'm so excited.
00:40
I really cannot tell you how excited I am to just sit down, talk
00:44
to you kind of go through your background in the field of astrobiology
00:47
Yeah.
00:48
Well, I'm thrilled to be here.
00:49
Thank you so much for having me.
00:51
I am an astrobiologist and that is a really awesome area of
00:56
science dedicated to figuring out our origins and whether
00:59
life exists in space.
01:00
So basically I look for aliens, but I'm also a NASA graduate
01:04
fellow and a science communicator.
01:06
I create content about astrobiology on tiktok for those who
01:09
may not know off the bat, what astrobiology is.
01:12
Can you explain it in the simplest terms, what the field is
01:17
what people study who go into astrobiology?
01:20
Yeah.
01:20
So the definition of astrobiology is that it's the study of
01:24
the origins, evolution, distribution and future of life
01:28
in the universe.
01:29
So a lot of big questions and I like to think of astrobiology
01:33
in terms of the questions that I ask.
01:35
And to me, the two big ones are, how did life get started?
01:38
Really?
01:39
Like how did life emerge from non life on this planet?
01:43
And then the other half of it is this distribution of life portion
01:47
Are we alone?
01:48
Does life exist on other worlds?
01:49
And if so how do we go about finding it?
01:52
And as you might imagine, when you're asking those types of
01:54
questions, there's no single area of expertise that's needed
01:57
to answer these questions.
01:58
You really need collaborations and the intersection of lots
02:01
of different areas of science.
02:02
So anything you can think of biology, chemistry, physics
02:05
astronomy, philosophy even are all important parts of trying
02:09
to resolve these really, really huge mysteries of science
02:12
Wow, that's so cool.
02:13
So when you're in your field of study and you phd Candidate
02:17
program, are you working with other people in those different
02:20
fields to kind of try to answer those questions?
02:24
Absolutely.
02:24
And that's probably one of my favorite parts of being an astrobiologist
02:28
is not just being able to answer or try to answer these questions
02:31
but also work with lots of different kinds of scientists
02:34
who come from very different backgrounds, who come with very
02:37
different areas of expertise, who speak different languages
02:40
and just getting to see how they think about problems, hear
02:44
their perspectives and kind of come together to try to answer
02:47
these questions that are otherwise unanswerable using one
02:50
single discipline.
02:51
So, yeah, absolutely.
02:52
That is so cool.
02:53
And I think going back on, you know, answering those really
02:56
big questions and, you know, I think everyone has those questions
03:00
of like, oh, what else is there out there?
03:03
You can't just be us or, you know, kind of wrapping our head
03:06
around this existential, you know, is there life on other
03:10
planets in other solar systems?
03:12
What does that look like?
03:13
How do we even begin to answer those questions?
03:16
And I think that's a really big reason why people start making
03:19
movies about aliens and books, about aliens and just space
03:23
travel and all of that.
03:24
And I'm wondering if you watch or read any of those things and
03:29
you know, it peaked curiosity about space and becoming an
03:32
astrobiologist.
03:34
Yeah.
03:34
So I love sci-fi.
03:35
Sci-fi is absolutely my favorite genre of entertainment
03:39
to consume books, movies, TV, shows.
03:41
And I, it's funny because I've always been fascinated with
03:46
that genre since I was a kid, but I never connected it to any
03:49
kind of scientific interest.
03:51
Um I, I've always seen it as a form of entertainment.
03:55
I never thought that there was any kind of scientific truth
03:57
to any of it.
03:58
Um It wasn't until I discovered astrobiology later on in my
04:02
life that I started to make connections between the two and
04:04
started to think about the themes I was seeing in sci-fi with
04:07
a scientific lens.
04:08
One of the first sci-fi I ever read as a kid was Dune, which just
04:12
came out as a movie recently.
04:14
And I was just obsessed with that book.
04:16
I had never read anything like it and it's not super, it is sci-fi
04:21
but it doesn't deal a lot with aliens necessarily.
04:24
Um More recently, some sci-fi films that I really enjoy are
04:28
things like annihilation, which is a movie that just came
04:31
out not too long ago, I guess, a few years ago.
04:34
And what I really like about that one is that the alien is just
04:38
very different from what we think seem to perceive.
04:42
There's not these little green men which we often see depicted
04:45
in sci-fi films and TV series, which I think is just very close
04:50
minded.
04:51
Um And so I think there are lots of different sci-fi explorations
04:56
of alien life which I, which I like to think about and make actually
04:59
tiktok content about.
05:00
Um But yeah, June definitely stands out as kind of shaping
05:04
my early interest in sci-fi going back to your day to day.
05:07
And what, what does that look like as an astrobiologist?
05:11
So there are lots of different kinds of astrobiology and one
05:15
major way of categorizing it is either doing kind of simulation
05:19
work working on a computer trying to run models and then the
05:21
other is actually getting into a lab and trying to do things
05:26
like make life or study different fingerprints of life to
05:31
try to see how we might detect life if it exists elsewhere.
05:35
And the latter one is what I do.
05:36
So I really spend a lot of time in a laboratory trying to test
05:39
models for things like how life originated and really get
05:44
in there and use the tools of science to try to observe some
05:47
of the phenomena that I'm interested in.
05:48
So I spend a lot of time in a lab.
05:50
So that's kind of my 9 to 5 is running experiments, keeping
05:54
the lab clean, kind of doing chores.
05:56
And then a lot of it is collaborating.
05:58
So emails, meetings, working with other scientists because
06:02
you know, no science happens in a vacuum and especially astrobiology
06:06
which we just touched on is really interdisciplinary, requires
06:09
a lot of people working together.
06:11
A lot of my time is spent uh networking and collaborating with
06:14
other people.
06:14
So that's, that's basically my day to day in a lab and then in
06:17
meetings, what does an experiment look like to you and the
06:22
labs?
06:22
So the kind of work I do in a lab is specifically aimed at trying
06:26
to recreate the conditions of the early earth.
06:29
And the big question I'm trying to answer is how do we get life
06:33
from non life on an early earth?
06:35
So I have a lot of equipment in my lab that's meant to simulate
06:38
or replicate some aspects of the early earth.
06:40
So for the fact that it didn't have any oxygen, the fact that
06:43
we think that it was quite a bit warmer.
06:45
So things like that.
06:46
And so I basically spend time in these instruments in these
06:49
machines to try to recreate some of the steps that we think
06:53
were key in the origin of life and you know, pouring solutions
06:57
making solutions, uh cleaning a bunch of stuff, making sure
07:01
things are sterile and then analyzing a lot of data.
07:04
So that's, that's what a typical experiment looks like is
07:06
doing the experiment and then analyzing a lot of data.
07:09
How how long does an experiment like that take usually from
07:13
start to finish, from collecting all this data to analyzing
07:16
it to delivering it to XYZ.
07:19
What does that whole process look like?
07:21
So it totally depends.
07:22
So we have experiments that happen over a very short period
07:25
um few minutes, two hours and then we have experiments going
07:29
on in our lab that happen over months and years.
07:32
So it really just depends on the type of project that you're
07:35
working on at that moment.
07:36
Totally, it depends on the scale, it depends on the exact thing
07:39
that we're trying to look at and measure and a lot of the processes
07:42
that we study, you know, think about life unfolding, right
07:44
That that's a process that took millions of years, if not billions
07:47
of years to to develop.
07:49
And so um you know, trying to, even when we scale that down,
07:52
we're still talking about, you know, days, months, years
07:55
worth of experiments.
07:56
So a lot of hard work goes into those experiments from start
07:59
to finish.
08:00
That's awesome.
08:00
Yep.
08:01
When you, when you talk about what you do with friends with
08:06
new people that you meet, what is the one thing that I think
08:10
surprises most people about what you do?
08:13
I think that astrobiology is even a thing.
08:16
Um Most people don't know that astrobiology is a real field
08:19
of science that you can dedicate yourself to, that you can
08:22
get a real scientific career in.
08:24
And so I think people just realizing that you can use science
08:28
to try to answer these very existential questions about our
08:31
origins and whether we're alone is a huge surprise.
08:34
And I think a lot of times when people hear that astrobiology
08:38
is a thing that's kind of a light switch moment for them.
08:41
And they, they go, wow, you know, that's, I had no idea.
08:44
Uh And I think it's safe to say that most people are interested
08:46
in it just because it has this kind of existential background
08:49
Most people have asked these, these questions before on a
08:52
personal level.
08:53
And so, yeah, I think that's probably the most um common reaction
08:57
is just like, wow, I had no idea.
08:59
Astrobiology is a thing.
09:00
Do you get that a lot on tiktok?
09:02
Like, let's talk about how you, your start and how you really
09:05
use that platform as a way to introduce astrobiology as a subject
09:10
as a field and as a possible career of study.
09:14
Um Did you really see a lot of that in your audience that you
09:17
were starting to build and you have built, what, what was that
09:21
whole process like of, you know, becoming a science communicator
09:24
on Tik Tok?
09:25
Yeah.
09:26
So I started creating content on tiktok a few months ago and
09:30
I wasn't talking about astrobiology at all.
09:32
I just uploaded a few random videos about how to give a good
09:35
presentation and those did really well.
09:38
But as I started creating series on that and thinking about
09:41
how I wanted to use the platform, I was like, you know, I kind
09:43
of want to talk about the science.
09:45
I do not just this presentation stuff which is still really
09:47
useful, but I wonder if people will be interested in the science
09:50
that I do.
09:51
So I just started uploading a few kind of astrobiology, news
09:54
style videos about newsworthy things that had just happened
09:57
And sure enough people were just absolutely fascinated going
10:01
you know what?
10:02
I had no idea.
10:02
Astrobiology was a thing asking questions.
10:05
And then I used those questions to create more content and
10:09
it just kind of snowballed into, you know, just creating content
10:12
about astrobiology.
10:13
Getting the word out there.
10:14
That's crazy.
10:15
Only a couple months ago you started Tik Tok and you've already
10:19
gotten such a big following from that.
10:21
It just goes to show how many people are interested in the subject
10:24
or may have all these questions that you're able to help them
10:27
answer is so amazing.
10:30
What's like one of your favorite answers that you've given
10:33
to a question that someone has asked you on tiktok.
10:36
The videos I enjoy making the most are answering questions
10:41
about where I think life might exist beyond earth.
10:44
So I get a lot of questions like if you have to bet right now on
10:47
whether life exists on another planet, what would that planet
10:50
be uh or that moon?
10:52
Um And I always love answering those questions because uh
10:54
people always chime in with their own opinions as well.
10:57
And it, and it triggers a lot of really interesting discussion
10:59
about how do we, how do we judge a planet or a moon and its potential
11:03
to host life and what goes into that judgment?
11:06
Uh So yeah, I really like answering those types of questions
11:09
That's awesome.
11:10
That reminds me of one question that you did answer.
11:12
That was one of my favorites is that if you had an unlimited
11:16
amount of budget money set aside for any space exploration
11:21
you know, project or endeavor, what would it be?
11:25
And what was your answer again?
11:26
It was, it was it was to send Eels to.
11:29
So Eels is a funny acronym for uh a type of robotic snake called
11:34
an Extant Exobiology Life Surveyor.
11:38
It's actually a really cool design.
11:39
It hasn't been approved.
11:40
There's no plans to send them anywhere yet, but there are these
11:42
kind of robotic snakes designed to slither down ice cracks
11:46
on some of these icy moons of the outer solar system that we
11:48
think of these really huge sub surface oceans.
11:51
And so these eels are designed to go sample those oceans.
11:54
So that was my answer to send eels to Enceladus.
11:56
That is so cool and I love how you specified not real eels.
12:01
These are the type of eels.
12:02
I just want to talk a little bit about your Tik Tok even further
12:06
And the community that you've built, you know, have you seen
12:09
a lot of people who may not be in the stem field?
12:13
And do you see also a portion of it, you know, in the stem community
12:18
you know, in professions who are working as, you know, engineers
12:23
maybe scientists, other um you know, other people in that
12:26
field, how, how would you describe the community that you've
12:30
built and that you've nurtured over the past months?
12:33
I think it's very mixed.
12:35
So I definitely see a lot of responses from people who are currently
12:38
in science who are maybe exploring another area who are also
12:41
themselves just discovering astrobiology for the first
12:43
time and realizing that maybe that's something they want
12:45
to explore in their next steps.
12:47
And those are some of my favorite comments to get, you know
12:49
people saying I've decided to switch to astrobiology because
12:52
of this video and that always just warms my heart to some selfishly
12:57
I like being the one to like help someone discover that astrobiology
13:02
is a real thing.
13:03
But then probably to me what's even more exciting is people
13:06
discovering an interest in science through astrobiology
13:09
who maybe hadn't considered science before.
13:13
And astrobiology is kind of being that spark that draws them
13:16
to science and wanting to become a scientist specifically
13:19
because of their interest in astrobiology.
13:20
So I get a lot of people who aren't non scientists as well.
13:24
Um So yeah, I think, I think it's very mixed, but in general
13:27
I feel like the response is very similar across both scientists
13:30
and non scientists of just genuine excitement over astrobiology
13:34
being a possibility.
13:36
Yeah.
13:36
And I think you're such a great role model to people, especially
13:39
young women in stem who are looking to either study this in
13:43
college or create a career for themselves who may not know
13:47
what avenue to take, what courses to take, what colleges to
13:51
go to and you're really providing all of those answers.
13:54
So tell me a little bit about your childhood.
13:56
What did it look like growing up?
13:58
What were your parents like?
13:59
I'd love to hear all about it.
14:01
Yeah.
14:01
So um my parents were both professional contemporary dancers
14:05
So grew up in a dance household, travel, traveled a lot, got
14:09
to watch probably hundreds of their performances.
14:13
So I definitely thought that dance was in my blood and that
14:16
I should try it.
14:16
So when I was very young, I tried dance classes, taking ballet
14:19
and pretty quickly realized that it was something I really
14:22
liked watching but not doing necessarily.
14:24
So I gave that up pretty quickly.
14:26
Um I was a pretty introverted child.
14:28
Um I liked art.
14:29
I like drawing.
14:30
So I definitely thought that I would be an artist and an illustrator
14:35
I took some classes.
14:36
Uh So that's definitely what I did.
14:38
I wasn't a huge reader early on either.
14:40
I really just like drawing.
14:41
That's really all I did.
14:43
Um My sport of choice was horseback riding.
14:46
Uh So I got to ride horses but um not as much as I would like because
14:49
it turns out riding horses is very expensive.
14:52
It is.
14:53
So um yeah, but that's basically what I did.
14:55
I dreamt about horses and drawing.
14:58
That's so cool.
14:59
So, were your parents absolutely crushed when you didn't
15:01
become a dancer or were they totally supportive and whatever
15:05
you wanted to do in the future?
15:07
Yeah.
15:07
No, they, they didn't really, they weren't disappointed
15:10
at all.
15:10
I don't think they were very supportive either way.
15:13
They were very excited about my interest in drawing and like
15:17
I said, horseback riding was kind of a mixed bag just because
15:20
I was really passionate about it.
15:22
But it was, it's not an easy sport to be involved in just because
15:25
of the cost and the competitiveness of it.
15:27
Right.
15:27
I love how you got into drawing and express yourself in different
15:30
ways though, because all of those different areas dancing
15:33
are and it's, it's such a great way to express yourself as a
15:37
kid.
15:37
Did you also read any books?
15:40
Any watch, any movies that kind of, you know, defined you as
15:43
a kid?
15:44
It's funny because as a young kid, I wasn't super into movies
15:47
and books.
15:48
That's not something I developed a little later on kind of
15:51
in high school.
15:52
Um But I was just very, in my own head in my own mind.
15:56
I daydreamed a lot.
15:57
Um I am a very kind of obsessive person when it comes to my interest
16:01
So I was running around in my house pretending to be a horse
16:05
and kind of mapping out what I was gonna do at my lessons the
16:08
next day.
16:09
Um Our neighbors always complained about me because I was
16:12
galloping around like a horse.
16:13
Oh my God.
16:13
So I literally spent my day reading if I did read books, it was
16:17
like um books about like field guides for like horses and things
16:21
like that.
16:22
Um So I was very, very into horses for a long time.
16:25
But um yeah, I, that's, that's that, but it sounds like such
16:29
a great and just imaginative childhood.
16:33
I'm curious as to when you started thinking about, oh, ok.
16:37
I have a really great interest in space and astrobiology.
16:41
Like when was that kind of like a ha moment of, ok, this might
16:45
be a possibility for me.
16:47
Was it early in your childhood or a little bit later on?
16:50
It was definitely later on.
16:51
So most of my childhood up until very late in high school, I
16:54
never imagined anything related to the sciences were in my
16:58
future.
16:59
Um, in fact, I've been dissuaded by teachers at the time just
17:02
because I wasn't, I wasn't good at math.
17:03
Math is not something that ever came naturally for me.
17:06
And I was, I was warned early on that not being good at math is
17:09
kind of a red flag and not a good indicator of your success in
17:13
science.
17:13
I hear that a lot too and it's honestly, we should probably
17:16
stop that narrative like because it discourages a lot of people
17:20
like you said to go into these different fields.
17:23
So that's really interesting.
17:24
Yeah.
17:25
And I mean, being good at math can certainly help, but it's
17:27
definitely not a prerequisite.
17:29
And I don't think anyone should take the fact that they struggle
17:31
with math and that it doesn't come easily for them as a sign
17:34
that they're not cut out for science, which is exactly what
17:36
I was told.
17:37
Um And so I went most of my childhood kind of not even considering
17:42
science as a as a possibility because of that, the spark really
17:45
came kind of by accident.
17:47
I was, I was uh given the opportunity to intern uh as a high schooler
17:52
at the shed aquarium in Chicago.
17:53
And so I got to learn about marine biology and participate
17:56
in some of their programs.
17:57
And that's actually what led to me entering science as a, as
17:59
an undergrad is because of that.
18:01
And I, if I had not had that experience, I know for a fact I would
18:04
have never gone into science because I'd been told up until
18:06
that point that science was just, wasn't for me.
18:09
That's amazing.
18:10
How did you get that opportunity for people who are also kind
18:14
of in the same position where they're finding out these interests
18:17
a little bit later in life, a little bit later in their schooling
18:20
How did you get that opportunity?
18:22
And what do you recommend for people who, who also are kind
18:25
of in that same place?
18:26
So it was a family friend who isn't a scientist.
18:29
He's actually an installation artist who had worked at the
18:31
shed aquarium to put on an installation for them and happened
18:35
to be connected to the shed aquarium.
18:36
And in my last year of high school, we were actually required
18:39
to do a small internship for three weeks, I believe.
18:42
And we decided to tap this family friend and say, hey, how about
18:45
interning or doing something with the shed aquarium since
18:48
you have a connection?
18:49
And that's how I got in it.
18:50
Kind of through this family friend.
18:52
I had no interest in marine biology whatsoever.
18:53
We're just like, hey, we know someone who works at a cool place
18:56
Uh And sure enough, I was there and I got to go behind the scenes
19:00
and talk to some of the marine biologists there.
19:01
And I was like, this is, this is what I want to do.
19:04
Um So it was kind of by accident and it was for completely different
19:07
reasons than trying to explore science.
19:10
Um But, you know, it's kind of looking back, I think the advice
19:13
I would give is tap your network, right?
19:15
And sometimes a connection can come from an unexpected place
19:19
Um But, you know, just explore, follow your interests and
19:23
see where different opportunities take you.
19:24
If you have the privilege and the opportunity of taking those
19:27
opportunities, you should digging a little deeper into these
19:31
challenges being a woman in stem.
19:34
Did you ever have any challenges based on your gender or did
19:39
you ever feel any sort of alienation being in this career path
19:46
Yeah.
19:47
So early on, not so much, I think just because I never actually
19:51
considered science.
19:52
So I wasn't necessarily seeing myself in positions as a science
19:56
as a scientist.
19:57
So I was kind of um immune to that.
20:00
However, once I entered science, not just as a major, but also
20:03
doing research.
20:04
So in my junior year as an undergrad, I decided to join a research
20:07
lab, which was my first research experience.
20:10
My advisor was a woman.
20:11
Um And it was a terrible experience.
20:13
Um It was a really toxic lab environment.
20:16
Um It was, it was really, really awful and I'm actually surprised
20:21
that I'm still in science after that.
20:23
I think that this advisor's training and past really led to
20:29
very strong, not just internalized misogyny, but very external
20:34
and outwardly misogyny, you know, constantly making comments
20:37
about being too sensitive to be in science if I showed any kind
20:41
of emotion that was weaponized against me.
20:45
So I ended up leaving that lab very shortly thereafter.
20:47
But that was kind of my first experience as a researcher is
20:50
being kind of confronted with the fact that women are still
20:54
perceived as being overly emotional or too emotional to be
20:57
scientists.
20:59
And I'm very thankful that I left that experience because
21:01
I had much better ones after that.
21:03
But yeah, I think that was kind of a defining moment for me early
21:07
on in my research career is having someone who was so unsupportive
21:13
with this being such a defining moment moving forward.
21:17
Do you hope that it's different for young women in stem, do
21:20
you feel like that environment still exists today or was that
21:23
just unique in that one situation?
21:26
So now that I'm a pretty uh established scientist, at least
21:30
I've been in science for a long time.
21:32
I've been in different research labs.
21:33
I have a lot of colleagues in research labs.
21:35
Um It's very unfortunate to say that that is actually a very
21:39
common experience.
21:40
It actually seems like really welcoming, inclusive lab environments
21:44
are kind of a rarity.
21:46
It seems like a lot of a lot of early career scientists.
21:50
So undergrad, graduate postdoc level do face some type of
21:55
discrimination, some type of abusive, some type of harassment
21:59
situation.
22:00
And that's really unfortunate and that's something that's
22:02
hit me pretty hard as I move along.
22:04
Just kind of realizing that having these really comfortable
22:07
safe environments are actually kind of exceptional in science
22:11
And that's definitely something we need to work on.
22:13
And I think that I know that it's one of my personal missions
22:18
to help dismantle that, right?
22:21
I was going to say, as you're furthering your career, a great
22:24
thing is that you have all these experiences, good ones, bad
22:28
ones.
22:28
Now you can set up, you know, very safe, a very welcoming environment
22:33
for other women.
22:34
So that way they can behave their own ways and feel like they
22:37
have a place and they have a seat at the table, which I think
22:39
is so amazing and so so awesome because like you said, even
22:43
today, there's not that many welcoming spaces for those people
22:48
How did your mentors and through all these mentorships, help
22:52
you get out of your toxic work environments that you were in
22:56
in the past?
22:57
Yes.
22:57
So I think the key was exactly what I was just talking about
23:00
diversifying your mentors and relying and trying to build
23:03
a network rather than relying on a single person because having
23:07
that diversity of perspectives can really be an important
23:11
safety net and can really help you out of tricky situations
23:14
because I can't imagine what would have happened if I had put
23:17
all of my eggs in one basket and really not put the effort into
23:22
trying to find other voices that I trusted.
23:24
Um I don't know how well I would have fared in that situation
23:27
and I feel like being able to stay in science and not have this
23:31
really awful perception of what being in science is like,
23:34
came down to having these other supportive voices that helped
23:37
me through that situation.
23:38
So a really good reason to diversify your mentors is so that
23:41
when you go through really hard bad experiences, um you have
23:44
lots of different voices to count on.
23:46
That's really great advice, just diversifying your portfolio
23:50
of mentorships because different mentors also, I assume
23:54
help you in different areas.
23:56
Like you said, all of your mentors are in different fields
23:59
different areas of study, different professions and they
24:03
probably help you with not only giving you the motivation
24:06
and giving you, you know, words of encouragement to keep going
24:10
They probably help you in different areas and aspects professionally
24:14
So that's awesome and great advice to give to young women who
24:18
are, you know, maybe in a toxic environment who are feeling
24:22
a little bit discouraged and looking for, you know, a wider
24:26
range of people to help support them.
24:28
So that's amazing advice.
24:30
Would you say that you're also a mentor?
24:33
Do you do any mentorship for people in this field as well?
24:37
Yeah, I, I definitely consider myself a mentor and actually
24:41
being a mentor is one of my favorite parts of being a scientist
24:44
uh working with, with younger students who are just learning
24:48
about being a scientist who are having their first research
24:51
experiences.
24:52
Um is one of the most rewarding parts of all of this.
24:55
And I feel like a lot of the things I've learned through my own
24:57
experiences, I'm now uh have shaped my mentorship style.
25:02
Um So I'm definitely a mentor.
25:03
I I mentor undergrad students.
25:04
I mentor other younger grad students since I'm I'm more senior
25:08
now.
25:09
Um So yeah, I, I absolutely love mentoring.
25:11
How would you describe your mentorship style?
25:14
I think the number one thing that I see myself doing really
25:19
well is just listening and not imposing my own kind of views
25:25
and opinions and ideas about what someone's trajectory should
25:29
be.
25:30
I'm very receptive to what people's ambitions are and the
25:33
fact that those ambitions can change and try to be supportive
25:36
to those changes because that's not something I necessarily
25:40
received.
25:40
I think that part of what made some situations bad in the past
25:45
was being kind of confined to one particular path and not feeling
25:49
supported if I ever felt like I wanted to move away from that
25:52
path.
25:52
And so that's really important to me is supporting people
25:55
on their, on their own individual journey as they see, as they
25:59
see fit, right?
26:00
Because everyone has their own journey and it's unique to
26:03
them.
26:03
So not one shape that's all in this, in this situation.
26:07
So that's awesome.
26:08
What would you say, you know, moving into the future and what
26:12
you're doing right now and what you hope for the future, how
26:15
do you see, you know, science kind of for young women going
26:21
into stem what can they expect in the future?
26:25
I think by and large, I'm really optimistic.
26:27
I think I'm seeing a lot of indications at a lot of different
26:30
levels, both within science and also outside science to try
26:34
to make the whole culture and institution of science better
26:39
and more welcoming, more inclusive and just overall safer
26:42
for women and underrepresented minorities.
26:46
Uh So I think, I think the future is bright and I think it's in
26:50
large part being kind of spearheaded by younger generations
26:54
of women who by and large have been exposed on the receiving
26:57
end of, of really toxic situations.
27:01
And I think that there really kind of pushing forward this
27:05
new day, this new age in science to make it just a better place
27:09
So I'm really optimistic about in general science becoming
27:12
more accessible and inclusive.
27:14
Do you have any opinions or ideas of how we as a society can make
27:21
this more accessible to minorities or under privileged people
27:25
who want to go into this field.
27:28
Yeah, I think I'm not entirely sure because I in my answer now
27:32
it might be a little bit different than it was a few months
27:34
ago before I started doing things like social media, science
27:36
communication.
27:37
I think distributing science, high quality science, educational
27:41
content through kind of unconventional channels could be
27:44
extremely powerful in this, in this particular domain because
27:48
it's just works to put science in front of people who maybe
27:51
otherwise wouldn't have access to it.
27:53
Um And also just helps with, with everything really with representation
27:59
with creating networks.
28:01
You know, I myself found so many other women in science who
28:04
I now consider friends by being on social media.
28:07
So I think that kind of cultivating social media, science
28:10
communication, but also taking the lessons from that, that
28:14
accessibility that wide viewership is is the key here.
28:19
So finding ways to help disseminate that further.
28:22
Um I think might be the key moving forward.
28:25
Yeah.
28:25
And I think that's great.
28:26
That's amazing with you personally for the future.
28:30
What does that look like for you?
28:31
I know you're finishing up your phd program, you're a phd candidate
28:35
What does your career look like moving forward?
28:38
What's kind of like your end goal?
28:40
So I would love to continue doing science, astrobiology in
28:44
particular.
28:45
So I feel like I've found my home, at least in terms of scientific
28:48
field, but I also want to keep doing and expanding my social
28:52
media science communication efforts and maybe expand to
28:56
other platforms, just expand on that a little bit.
29:00
But certainly I view it as a part of me now.
29:03
I don't really see myself moving forward with 11 without the
29:06
other.
29:07
So that's kind of my dream.
29:08
I'm not sure exactly what that looks like yet, but certainly
29:10
continuing to be a scientist, but also investing a lot of time
29:13
and energy in science communication is where I see myself
29:16
We live in a world where we can do both, right?
29:19
And you're, you're already proving that you can do both.
29:22
You're studying a really rigorous topic and subject while
29:26
also, you know, being a science communicator on social media
29:30
and kind of already doing what you kind of had an idea of how
29:33
we can be more accessible to everyone in this field is doing
29:37
it in, in a really different way, in a splashy way.
29:40
And I think by you being on tiktok that, that you're doing it
29:44
do you ever see yourself moving towards a different area
29:48
of science or have you found your home with astrobiology?
29:52
I don't know.
29:53
But what I do know is that if my interests shift, then I will
29:57
embrace that.
29:58
I think that that's something that I've done throughout my
30:00
career is just followed my interests where they took me partially
30:03
because I had the privilege of doing that.
30:05
Um It's not always that easy, but I feel like I sort of instinctively
30:10
just followed my interest instead of being like, oh, you know
30:13
I study molecular biology so I have to stay in this field because
30:16
that's what I've done just being very open to just saying,
30:20
ok, well, I'm interested in this now.
30:21
Let's see where it takes me.
30:23
And that's advice I give to other people too is if you have the
30:25
opportunity, follow your interests where they take you because
30:28
you never know where they'll take you.
30:29
They might take you to a job with NASA or a fellowship with NASA
30:34
And yeah, you just can't predict that stuff and I feel like
30:38
that's something I'm going to carry forward as well if my interest
30:40
shift.
30:41
Um I know that capitalizing on that has served me well so far
30:45
So that's what I plan on doing.
30:46
That's such great advice.
30:47
I think, especially nowadays people go to college and invest
30:51
so much money on one area and they assume that that's what they
30:56
have to do because they invested in that, right?
30:58
But as humans, we evolve, we change our interests change.
31:03
That doesn't mean we can't pivot and you know, find something
31:06
else that we're equally as passionate about and go for it.
31:09
So that's great advice more specifically in astrobiology
31:13
Since that is your field of study, what do you see happening
31:17
in the future in that area?
31:20
So, one of the things that's really kind of cool to think about
31:23
in astrobiology is the biggest discoveries haven't been
31:25
made.
31:26
So, astrobiology is about the origin of life and the potential
31:29
for life elsewhere.
31:30
And actually, we don't know anything about those things.
31:32
We haven't discovered alien life yet and we have no idea how
31:34
life got started.
31:35
So that's kind of frustrating, but it also means that we are
31:38
going to make those discoveries eventually.
31:40
And actually, among experts right now, we think that we're
31:43
pretty close to making those discoveries.
31:44
So the estimate right now is that in the next 20 years or so,
31:48
if life does exist elsewhere in our solar system, we may learn
31:51
about it, which is just so exciting to me.
31:53
Crazy.
31:54
So in our lifetime in our lifetime, so it's it should be like
31:58
the most incredible exciting thing for you because you're
32:02
just starting out your career.
32:03
So hopefully in 20 years, you can say that, oh, I helped discover
32:07
that I did that and that's actually a selling point.
32:09
I use a lot for people who are considering it.
32:11
It was like, well now is a really good time because if you join
32:14
astrobiology now, you may have a hand in making those discoveries
32:18
So, yeah, so in general, I think that's where the field is headed
32:20
is actually making these really groundbreaking foundational
32:23
discoveries that are at the heart of astrobiology?
32:25
That's amazing.
32:26
And are there any current prevailing theories in the field
32:30
that you have heard of?
32:33
Have yourself anything you want to share lots.
32:36
Uh So there are lots of different ideas about how life got started
32:40
and where and if life exists on other planets, and there are
32:44
about as many ideas as there are people right now.
32:47
And that's kind of exciting because there's just a lot, there's
32:50
a huge breadth of different possibilities to explore.
32:53
Um when it comes to the origin of life, we, we really have no
32:55
idea.
32:56
We just have a couple of good ideas based on our understanding
32:59
of life as it is now.
33:01
Um So we're not sure where it started, but we think that maybe
33:05
it started at a hydrothermal vent right where there's very
33:08
deep underwater where you have these volcanoes that seem
33:11
to be rich in the nutrients and environments you need for life
33:13
But there are also people who think that that's not right at
33:16
all.
33:16
Life could have started elsewhere.
33:18
We also don't know what came first.
33:19
What was the first living thing?
33:21
Uh Was it a DNA molecule?
33:23
Was it a cell?
33:24
We have no idea.
33:25
So there are a bunch of good ideas and I think we are getting
33:28
closer and closer to resolving those mysteries, but we, we
33:31
still don't know, it's still a mystery.
33:32
I'm actually curious about what you think people who don't
33:35
believe in aliens.
33:37
You know, there are people out there who are like, no, we're
33:40
the only people in this planet in this universe in this whole
33:45
system.
33:46
What do you think about that?
33:47
I think it's a really interesting perspective because I think
33:50
the implication there, which I kind of understand is that
33:53
life seems to be this very fragile unlikely thing.
33:57
Right?
33:57
I feel like I even thought that before I started thinking about
34:00
the origin of life as a scientist is, oh, we're just this accident
34:03
that happened.
34:04
And if you take that view, then it kind of makes sense that this
34:06
accident would have only happened maybe once so that we're
34:09
kind of the severity.
34:10
But actually, scientifically, we don't have any reason to
34:12
believe that that's true.
34:13
We don't have any evidence to suggest that we are a rarity.
34:16
We just happen to be limited in our technology, right?
34:19
We can't go elsewhere and explore.
34:21
Um So I think what we might find is the opposite that actually
34:25
we're not rare at all that life is everywhere.
34:28
Um And that this, this thinking that we are, this rarity is
34:31
just a byproduct of our subjective experience.
34:33
So I think it's a really interesting perspective and it's
34:35
grounded in something that's meaningful.
34:37
But scientifically, I don't think that they're right.
34:39
That's so interesting.
34:41
And I'm so glad I asked that question because I thought about
34:43
that based on all the cool things that are happening right
34:46
now in the space, you know, community, what do you think is
34:50
you know, on the horizon for space exploration, so many exciting
34:56
things, especially when it comes to astrobiology.
34:59
I think there are some really exciting things happening that
35:02
are likely to contribute to us making those discoveries I
35:05
was just talking about.
35:06
So one is the launch and the successful deployment of the James
35:10
Webb Space telescope, the JWST, which was launched on Christmas
35:13
Day, this past Christmas and is now in its final location.
35:17
And in the next couple of months, we're going to start getting
35:19
our first images and I'm really excited about that mission
35:21
because one of the things that's going to be doing is looking
35:24
at planets outside our solar system, exoplanets to look for
35:27
signs of life in their atmospheres, which is super exciting
35:30
We also have a lot of exciting stuff happening in the solar
35:33
system.
35:33
So we're going to be sending more rovers, more robotic probes
35:37
to worlds like Europa, which is an icy moon of Jupiter to look
35:41
for signs of life.
35:43
So, so many exciting things and that's part of the optimism
35:46
with respect to finding evidence of life where is because
35:49
of these missions.
35:50
I'm so happy to have you on the podcast.
35:52
It's a great transition into just thank you for coming and
35:56
taking the time to share all about your story, how you gained
36:00
an interest in astrobiology and how you really forged your
36:04
way into this PD candidacy and what you're going to do beyond
36:08
And I'm so so so thankful that you came on astronauts started
36:11
to talk to us today.
36:12
Thanks for having me.
36:13
It was a blast.