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Meet: Rosalind A. Grymes, Ph.D.

photo of Rose Grymes

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'm contrary
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'm risk-taking
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 angle
. photo of dog "unwrapping package"

photo of dog with ball"Happiness 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.

My career:
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 is—that'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 inquiry—astrobiology—and 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.

Future goals:
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.

photo of Rose with husband Personal Information:
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. photo of rose and daughter underwater[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)

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