Name: Melissa Kirven-Brooks
Place of Employment: NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA
Job Title: Lockheed Martin Fellow, Science Projects Manager, NASA Astrobiology Institute
Education: Biology, Bachelor of Science, Brown University
Doctorate, Applied Biological Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
I have worked at NASA Ames Research Center for the past 14 years as science lead on the development of hardware intended for the International Space Station: an Incubator and a Cell Culture Unit, and was briefly the science lead for the Egg Incubator and for the Life Sciences Glovebox, then I served as the Deputy Project Scientist and Project Scientist for Space Station and Shuttle experiments, and currently I manage the Science Programs for the NASA Astrobiology Institute. I was born and raised in New York City. I’m the youngest of four girls. I attended college and grad school in New England, and when I had a chance to move to the Bay Area to do a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford, I took the opportunity to leave the snow behind. My husband Roger and I moved back to Massachusetts, in a moment of madness, and our three children were born there. When contemplating another winter of snow, this time housebound with newborn twins, my husband took the opportunity to take a sabbatical back at Stanford, and we moved back to the area in 1995. After a brief stint as a tech writer, reading and writing about tumors and chemopreventives (don’t ask), I took a job at Ames. My children are now 20 and 17, and we’re not moving back again. My daughter is a junior in college and my sons are seniors in high school. I’ve worked extensively with liver cells, cholesterol metabolism, aging and cell matrix proteins and my current favorite critters are C. elegans.
What is the greatest challenge you’ve encountered during your career in STEM?
I've been fortunate to always have fairly good funding, but my times of greatest stress came when funding ended or was diverted resulting in a need to drop promising studies and refocus in areas that were better supported. I have had outstanding mentors who have eased transitions for me.
What do you think is the most exciting thing about having a career in STEM?
It is ever exciting to be on the cutting edge of discovering answers to questions of why things work. One of my more recent questions is where did the water on the Earth come from - comets smashing into the Earth, through chemical process on the Earth, from cooling of the early Earth - no one has a definitive answer
If you could give one piece of advice to a girl who is considering doing a Silver or Gold Award based on STEM or pursuing a career in STEM, what would that be?
Talk to as many people as possible, don't limit yourself to only women or only senior folks, also consider talking to graduate students, postdocs, until you find someone whose work intrigues you, whose style you are comfortable with and who you would want to be someday. Don't worry about hurting anyone's feelings, find the best match for you.
Did you have STEM mentors?
I had plenty of mentors from college, through grad school, even now - both men and women, academic and industrial, some even younger than I am. I can learn from everyone.
If you were a Girl Scout, what is your favorite Girl Scout memory?
I vividly remember making butter, from cream and sour cream, I think and wondering about the liquid to solid transformation and being impressed that with a little effort from many people, my troop, we made something so delightful - many hands/light work.