Motivational Journeys – Episode 1: Interview with Rosaly Lopes Gautier

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Hello everyone. My name is Rutu Parekh and
I am a PhD student at DLR Institute of Planetary Science, Berlin and I am part of the Europlanet
Early Career Committee and at the Committee we are trying to motivate and understand
the struggles which are faced by the early careers in the field of planetary science so as part
of our motivation we thought to design a series of interviews of the planetary scientists
– the senior planetary scientists – and the researchers in our field and try to listen
to their struggle and their motivation throughout their career and hopefully seeing this video
we are trying to achieve that a couple of early careers, or the PhDs, the post-docs, or masters
students could feel motivated by these videos. So today, we have Dr Rosaly Lopes with us.
She’s a planetary volcanologist and she did her PhD at University College London and later
a post-doc at NASA JPL. She has worked amazingly in terms of volcanology, she has published various
books, research papers and is also involved in various scientific communications. She
has also received many awards including AGU ambassador award and Carl Sagan award, which
is something really exceptional. So I welcome you with us today. Thank you
for taking time from your hectic schedule and sitting down with us. So tell us – you
were born and brought up in Brazil and are now at NASA-JPL working on various missions.
How… the whole journey – how it was for you? I have wanted to work in astronomy since I
was a little kid. My interest started because I followed the Apollo programme since I was
quite young and I wanted to go to the Moon, I wanted to become an astronaut. But, I realised
that I was female and nearly all the astronauts at that time were male. I was Brazilian and
there were no Brazilian astronauts and I had very bad eyesight and that was a no-no. So
I decided that maybe the best thing would be to become a scientist and to work for NASA. and I had an inspiration when Apollo 13 happened
and the Brazilian newspapers carried a photograph and a short article of a woman called Frances
Northcutt, known as “Poppy,” and I saw her there at mission control and thought she’s there, and if she’s there I can be there too. Eventually I went on a different path – I
didn’t work on mission control but that was a big motivation. And in fact Poppy and I
met a few months ago, so 49 years after that article… That’s amazing – seeing someone that motivated
you – that’s something really exceptional. So, tell me something – when you started working
in volcanology, I assume that there were not many people who were going in this field
called planetary volcanology. I don’t think it used to exist in those days. So how did you manage
to go in this field that nobody had heard about and thrive through it? Well, I went to England from Brazil to do
a degree in astronomy and I was doing my final year project in astrophysics and I thought
I was going to go in that direction. But I had a class from a planetary geologist at
University College London where I was. He was Dr John Guest and he had come from volcanology
into planetary and I thought the class was fascinating. And after a few weeks into the
class, he didn’t show up and a post-doc showed up and said Mount Etna in Sicily erupted and
the professor had to go. And I thought that’s really exciting. That’s much more exciting
than sitting there in astronomy observatory and freezing. I don’t like cold weather. And
I thought: volcanoes – that’s really exciting. So I very much enjoyed the class and I asked
him if he would take me on as a graduate student and he did! Wow – so you had really amazing professors
and teachers who did support you throughout this, you know, your idea, and they motivated
you. Yes, even though at first he said, you know,
“I never had a student who wasn’t a geologist, but I suppose you can do something.” That’s wonderful what he said. That’s really
amazing. So we know that throughout your career you
have almost visited all the volcanoes all over the… Well I have visited actually volcanoes on every continent.
That’s a claim to fame – not many people have done that. That’s a really, like a huge number. So you
did study the planetary volcanology because you were involved in this Io mission. So what
was the most significant moment or I should say discovery throughout your professional
career that has literally motivated you till now and, like, you are still associated with
this field. Well, so I’ve been very lucky. I’ve worked
on the Galileo mission. I actually started out working on Mars, Olympus Mons, Mars and
Earth comparison and physical models of lava flows. And then I got to JPL and I got to
know people from the Galileo Near Infra-Red Mapping Spectrometer team and they offered
me a job to lead the planning of their Io observations and the analysis and a very
important moment was when we started finding new hot-spots. And at the beginning of the mission, one of
my colleagues said, “Do you think that you are going to discover a new hot spot that’s
an active volcano on Io?” Because Voyager had found about a dozen you know and there
had been a few more found by ground-based and I said, well, “If I’m very lucky…” And
by the end of the mission, I had found 71… 71 active volcanoes! Yeah, new active volcanoes – well not new
but previously unknown. And it was very funny that it eventually got me in the Guinness
Book of World Records, which I never thought that I would be in. But I had a post-doc from
England who knew someone from Guinness and he made the contact – that’s how it happened.
So that was very funny. But I have had great moments after that. I joined the Cassini mission
and seeing the surface of Titan for the first time – it was amazing. Titan was the largest
unknown surface in the Solar System up to Cassini. That’s really amazing. Just hearing you, I
feel, I can feel the excitement. So you worked on different missions throughout your career…
so how did you deal with those tough times, because we always have, you know, pressure
to deliver, to write the research papers, and to put it forward… so how were those
tough days. What was your thought process during those times? How did you deal with
that? Well, we all have tough times and, you know,
I would say that, you know, persevering is the most important thing, determination. I
have known people that were extremely bright but just didn’t have the determination to carry on. And they dropped out of the field. And, you know, other people who
might not have done the best work but, you know, they kept at it. So, the most important thing is if you really
want to do it – and you have to really want to do it – that you don’t give up. You
keep going. And everyone is going to have papers criticised, proposals rejected and
also don’t take it personally. My PhD adviser recommended that all his students read some
philosophy of science, and particularly Karl Popper, and he really emphasised that science
only moves forward when we find that the previous theory were not quite right. And the previous work
is not quite right so science is going to move forward. So what you have to do is to
understand, you know, that you do the best work that you can at the time with the data
you have. But if someone comes along and says: “That’s not quite right and this is better,”
you have to feel glad because science is progressing. So according to you, the key is keep moving
forward and there has to be… one day we will find a way. That’s really inspiring and
I was really inspired by all these stories that you have shared. But just now we are
moving towards the end of the interview – what tips would you like to give our early careers
to survive through this field… because as we know, not all the days are the same for
us. Some days we really achieve something, the other days we just do, you know, the paper
correction and doing nothing so at the end sometimes we really need something to keep
our motivation high and push hard. So what would you like to share from your motivation? They key thing is that you really have to
love what you do to put up with the boring days and the tough times and the times when
you have to deal with a lot of administration. So it’s the determination, but that comes
from love of what you do. You have to be passionate about it. And whatever your passion is in
life you have to follow it, and then you are going to be happy. So, as you say, follow your passion and you
may have a path in the future. And we never know what’s there in the future for us. So
I’m really glad that we could have this sit down and you could take time from your busy
schedule. So thank you so much for coming over here and for sharing your part and your
opinions regarding this field to the early careers and to motivate them. Thank you so
much. Good luck to all the early careers! Thank you – thank you so much.


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