August 22, 2017
Q&A with Dr. Lindy Elkins-Tanton, Director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University
Women’s Equality Day is August 26th! To celebrate, AGU will be highlighting several prominent women working in Earth and space science. We’ll be posting Q&A’s on The Bridge and to our various social media platforms including Twitter and Instagram!
Today’s featured scientist is Dr. Lindy Elkins-Tanton. Dr. Elkins-Tanton is the Director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, Principal Investigator of NASA’s Psyche mission, Co-chair of the Interplanetary Initiative, and Co-founder of Beagle Learning LLC. She received her B.S. in Geology from MIT, M.S. in Geochemistry from MIT, and her Ph.D. in Geology and Geophysics from MIT.
Who or what has inspired you to pursue your research?
I worked in business for about eight years after my Master’s. These jobs were extremely interesting and highly useful for my later career, but I felt the need for greater challenge, and for that, I looked to the infinite space of scientific research. My Master’s and PhD advisor, Tim Grove, was highly encouraging and his support has been critical for me throughout. Maria Zuber, Sam Bowring, Brad Hager, Marc Parmentier, Phil Christensen, and a number of other senior colleagues have supported and helped me greatly. In the end, it’s the community that I love — the exciting, challenging, energized people I get to work with.
What is an obstacle you have had to overcome to get to your current position?
The biggest obstacle is internal doubt or stress that threatened to stop my forward progress, that eroded my determination, that made me think an opportunity was for someone else, not me. Positive, constructive determination to keep going is the most important skill. And, like many people, I have both experienced and combatted harassment. The exhausting and demoralizing effects of harassment were not enough to make me want a different career, but they did make me consider different jobs. We all need to convince our leaders that taking decisive action against harassment will be strongly and positively supported by all of us.
How can the U.S. ensure that it continues to play a leading role in scientific discovery?
We need to turn high school education, specifically, from passive memorization and teaching for standardized exams to learning about problem solving, persistence, and how to see and address unsolved problems. Then we will have a stronger cohort coming in to higher education. More generally, I hope that our society understands the role of science and technology in economic stimulation and the societal good.
Do you have a favorite photograph from your career? If so, would you share it with us and tell us why it is important to you?
This is a selfie I took with about half the Psyche mission team in front of Space Systems Loral as we prepared for our site visit review. The site visit is an incredibly intense and demanding week-long team effort at answering questions for the NASA review panel, both in written form and in person, sometimes with a few days’ lead and sometimes in real time. This is a moment when stress can cut down on a
person’s ability to respond, when tempers can flare, when a team can fall apart. We held it together and prevailed, and we are all closer as a result. This was a real life event.
Thank you to Dr. Elkins-Tanton for her time and answers! Be sure to follow her on Twitter @ltelkins.