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Meet Janet Siefert

Photo of Janet Siefert doing fieldwork
NASA Ames Research Center

Career Fact Sheet Print Version

Who I am and what I Do
I am biologist whose main tool is the computer. All living things have DNA—the molecules that code for everything that the organism does. I collect the sequence of this DNA and try to figure out how the DNA has changed over the 4 billion years that life has been on the Earth. There is a group of astrobiologists who are working at NASA making computer programs that will help us understand how to detect life on planets much farther away than our solar system. I work with them to understand how genes in microbes allow them to eat different things on Earth and what waste products they excrete. Because microbes can make and alter the atmosphere on a planet (they do this on Earth), we can use that information to figure out "signatures" for life. An astrobiologist at NASA's Virtual Planet Laboratory would use these "biosignatures" to search for microbes doing similar things on other planets.

Areas of expertise
My two main areas of expertise are computers and molecular biology. You must be able to think, you must enjoy reading, you must enjoy writing, and you must like PUZZLES!

How I first became interested in this profession
I have always enjoyed the natural world. My mother and father were both very curious about how things worked in nature and my mother still runs her own little experiments in her kitchen and backyard. When I was young I was always "testing" things and my Dad took me on field trips and to the natural science museum before I was an elementary schoolgirl.

What helped me prepare for this job
Working hard puzzles when I was young. My family collected puzzles that you had to find the right way to make a shape or solve a problem. We weren't ever allowed to give up!  That was good practice for being a scientist.

My role models or inspirations
My mother and father, my PhD advisor, Dr. George Fox, and Dr. Gerald Joyce were my role models and inspirations.

My education and training -- How I got to this point
I got an undergraduate degree in General Science.  Then I completed a doctorate in biology. I learned a lot while I was in school, but am surprised at how much I KEEP learning every day!

My career path
I was lucky. I finished my undergraduate degree and then was a mother for 9 years. (I have 3 very handsome and smart sons!). After they were in elementary school I went back to school and got my doctorate. After I graduated, I started at Rice University.

What I like best about my job
Working on a problem and finding a way to get an answer! I love working with people too. You get to meet people with all different talents and attributes.

What I like least about my job
Working with students who don't treasure their chance to be scientists.

My advice to anyone interested in this occupation
Work hard and learn to accept constructive criticism.  Anything you can learn will be useful!

Personal information
I LOVE tennis!! I also play competitive bridge, which is where a lot of smart people who are interested in science go to keep their minds sharp!

Last Updated: February 15, 2005


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