How did you get into your field and what is your research story?
I started at a library in Gahanna, Ohio (Columbus Metropolitan Library) as a homework help center coordinator. As a former middle school science teacher seeking a new venue for my talents it was the library where my passion for teaching and my enthusiasm for learning collided. It was there I was encouraged to go to grad school where I earned my MLIS from Kent State. During my last semester at KSU I was assigned a project in which I interviewed the manager of the library at NASA Glenn. In a twist of fate, I was asked to complete my practicum, a culminating experience at a place I pined over as a child growing up in the Cleveland area. NASA was always a dream of mine. So it happened that a position became open while I was there and one thing led to another, the rest is history! Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever thought I’d be the science librarian at NASA.
Where do you do your research/work the best? What kind of environment suits you?
My best work is done in the morning, outside of my building at a picnic table. With the sound of wind tunnels and jet engines in the background with a cup of tea out of my NASA mug is when I’m doing my best work!
How long have you used Mendeley for?
I have been on Mendeley since January 2017, I was actually the first person to “graduate” from the librarian certification program!
What were you using prior to Mendeley and how does Mendeley influence your research?
I was using NOTHING! Mendeley helps me save time and lean my research process. Saving me time, therefore saving the government time!
Why did you decide to become an Advisor and how are you involved with the program?
I guess it goes back to the need for teaching and learning. You can take a teacher out of a classroom but you can’t take the classroom out of the teacher. I host all of our Mendeley demos here at our lab and encourage folks to lean their research process as well!
What researcher would you like to work with or meet, dead or alive?
After having been afforded the opportunity to have lunch with legend astronauts and personal heroes like Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, Walt Cunningham, and Frank Borman…I cannot answer this question. I’ve already met some of the most wonderful humans that ever walked this earth and who have been to space.
What book are you reading at the moment?
Secret time. I’m the librarian that doesn’t read as much as “most” librarians. I go through so much research everyday all day long that by the end of the day I’d rather go to the gym, go for a walk or work in the garden.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned this week?
That someone actually wants to play football for the Cleveland Browns. Welcome to Cleveland OBJ.
What is the best part about working in research?
Seeing things grow from the ground up. I’ll get a research request, 8 months later see NEW research published that used the research that I found and culled together months ago!
And the most challenging part about working in research?
The misconception that I know everything that NASA publishes because I’m the librarian. (a humorous challenge)
What is one Mendeley “ProTip” you have?
Using the “search” feature to find research that spans across multiple disciplines of research that I’ve saved over the years. That is usually my starting point to a new research project.
Robin grew up in the Cleveland, Ohio area. Always wanting to be a teacher she ventured to central Ohio for her undergraduate degree in middle childhood education. While in college she was a supervisor of summer day camps for kids. After college graduation she stuck around central Ohio and was teaching until finding her love of libraries with the Columbus Metropolitan Library. It was there where she was encouraged to attend grad school where she could advance her career and passion for libraries and learning. Fate would have it that she landed an experience at the NASA Glenn Research Center where all her passions would collide into the perfect dream job! As the science librarian for one of 3 research centers that NASA has, her day to day is filled with many typical librarian tasks like cataloging, collection maintenance, promotion and outreach as well as citation verification, in depth research and reference. Robin also hosts various demos and workshops for the NASA Glenn staff of 1,500. As NASA celebrates the 50th anniversary of the iconic Moon landing and the 60th anniversary of the Agency she hopes to be around to see many more anniversaries in the future and not for one moment takes for granted the esteem that comes for working with someone of the brightest people and most iconic Agencies in the world.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was founded in 1958, to help accelerate the existing efforts for aerospace research and development in the United States. Now in its 60th anniversary year, NASA offers a wide range of funding opportunities to researchers in aeronautics, human space flight research, biological systems in space, atmospheric sciences (including climate change), physical sciences, robotics and astrophysics.
The vast majority of grants are available through specific calls on the NASA solicitation and proposal integrated review and evaluation system (NSPIRES). All open calls, (known as solicitations), are available to view on the NSPIRES site and also posted on grants.gov. Before being eligible to submit a completed proposal, you need to ensure that you are affiliated with an organisation that is already registered on the system. Further information on registration can be found here. NASA accepts a few unsolicited grant proposals every year if they are of close relevance to their strategic plan. Interested applicants are required to follow the guidance for unsolicited proposals.
Researchers can submit their application in response to calls through either the NSPIRES site or grants.gov platform. It must be noted, however, that it is common to provide a notice of intention (NOI) before submitting a proposal, and this must be done via NSPIRES. General guidelines for submitting a grant proposal in response to a NASA funding announcement (FA) can be found in their guidebook.
Its crucial to ensure that you pay close attention to the deadlines, eligibility criteria, program goals, objectives, funding restrictions and submission information that are included in the FA. All deadlines for the FA must be adhered too, as well as the requested formats, (page length, font, spacing), for submission. FA’s include the details of your assigned program officer, who serves as a point of contact for the submission process.
Your proposal should demonstrate that you have exceptional knowledge of research to date and the key publications in the area of your proposed project. The impact of your project should be detailed with clear information on how it will extend or advance current understanding. Pay specific attention to writing a detailed and accurate budget and justification of expenditure for your project, this should include procurements needed for the project. Salaries and staff costs are usually included in the cover pages. A detailed budget for all other costs, excluding staff and associated overheads, need to be included in the main proposal document. A total budget document is also included to summarise all costs. A lack of information on budgets in submitted proposals is currently recognised by NASA as being the number one reason for grant rejection.
All grant applications received are subject to full peer review. The review process at NASA includes and administrative, technical and financial assessment. The technical assessment is undertaken by qualified peers of those submitting the proposal who have advanced knowledge in the field. They may not necessarily be specialists, so its important that your proposal is written with clarity and ease of understanding. NASA often recruits those previously successfully funded with grants as reviewers. The reviewal process takes between 150 days and 220 days and is subject to the funds being approved by the Federal budget process.
NASA has a specific postdoctoral program, and there are currently over 650 opportunities listed on its dedicated program pages. Postdoc opportunities are available to those who are within five years of having completed their doctorates. There are opportunities for both US and non-US citizens and annual application deadlines are March 1, July 1 and November 1. After the first year as a postdoctoral fellow, scientists interested in management may apply to the postdoctoral management program at NASA headquarters.
All research is primarily conducted at NASA’s ten research centres and affiliated university laboratories across the United States. There are four mission directorates at NASA including the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, the Space Technology Mission Directorate, the Science Directorate and the Aeronautics Research Directorate. Each directorate encompasses a number of research divisions with specified programs for awarding grants.
In a separate initiative, NASA’s office of education also issues funding in the form of internships, fellowships and scholarships. The office of education actively encourage those underrepresented in STEM careers, including women, minorities and individuals with disabilities to apply. The majority of current programs are aimed at undergraduate level students. Full details of current opportunities for the latter are available separately to research grants, on these relevant pages.
Research Opportunities by NASA Directorates
The Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate
The Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate includes the division of Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications (SLPSRA). The latter was founded in 2011.The SLPSRA administers a Human Research Program – researching the specific effects on human health and performance of spaceflight, a Space Biology program – looking at the effect of spaceflight and zero gravity on biological systems as a whole, and a Physical Sciences program – researching the effect of spaceflight on physical systems. The International Space Station is an integral part of conducting research in the latter fields.
The Physical Sciences research program covers six disciplines including biophysics, combustion science, complex fluids, fluid physics, fundamental physics and materials science. It has two elements to the research covered, the first being exploring the effects of weightlessness on physical systems, and the other researching space exploration technologies, for example power generation, environmental monitoring and space propulsion.
An online database of all research projects from 2004 supported by the SLPSRA are available to search and view in a dedicated taskbook here.
Space Technology Mission Directorate
NASA’s second directorate – the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), focusses, as its name suggests, on high-technology development to enable NASA’s current and future space missions. There are a number of ways it funds and collaborates with partners, including research grants and industry partnerships. More detailed background can be found on the STMD Directorate pages..
Research grants are specifically funded for four different areas. The first is as Space Technology Research Fellowships (NSTRF) to conduct Masters or Doctoral Research at one of NASA’s ten centres or affiliated university laboratories in the US. To qualify, candidates must be graduates with permanent residency in the US. There were 65 fellowships awarded last year.
The second research grant area is available for Early Career Faculty. The funding is accredited to outstanding early career researchers at US universities who are conducting space technology development of interest to NASA. Priority is given to groundbreaking, high-risk and high-pay off projects. The grant awards made are typically for $200K/year over a three year period. There were eight grants awarded last year in areas including integrated photonics sensors, microfludics sample acquisition and handling for space exploration, and cognitive communications.
A third area of funding is awarded through the STMD’s Early Stage Innovation (ESI) program. Eligible research applicants must demonstrate their invention of highly innovative and disruptive technologies at an early-stage of development. Priority is given to those that would address critical needs in NASA’s space exploration program. Successful candidates are awarded up to $500K per year for a maximum of three years. There were 14 grant awards last year in fields that spanned many topics including advanced coating systems for nuclear thrust propulsion, the extraction of water from extraterrestrial surfaces and lightweight lattice materials for space structures.
The third directorate is referred to as the Science Directorate (abbreviated to SARA). It is organised into four scientific divisions that encompass heliophysics, earth science, planetary science, and astrophysics. Interested applicants can visit specific resource pages that provide further general information for those looking for research opportunities in the Science Directorate. Funding announcements for the Directorate are available under the heading of Research Opportunities in Earth and Space Sciences (ROSES), the most up-to-date version of which is available here. Current postdoctoral opportunities covering many of the fields included in the Science directorate are also available on NASA’s Postdoctoral Program pages.
Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate
Aeronautics research at NASA is organised by the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD). Current research strategy at the directorate is organised in six areas that have been based on the envisaged future demands of aviation and air transportation for the next 25 years. These include a transition to low-carbon propulsion systems to reduce environmental impact, enabling the safe and efficient growth in global aviation operations and the development of supersonic aircraft.
Although the majority of ARMD research is carried out at four NASA research centres: Ames Research Center and Armstrong Flight Research Center in California, Glenn Research Center in Ohio, and Langley Research Center in Virginia, there are also multi-institutional collaborations and a few industry partners across the US. At present there are no open calls listed under this directorate on NSPIRES or grants.gov. Recent completed projects can be viewed here.
As governments worldwide are faced with tough funding decisions, what is the argument for prioritising this expensive area of research? Should the burden continue to be shouldered by taxpayers or will the emerging trend for commercial space exploration – spearheaded by Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Elon Musk’s SpaceX – change everything? Google’s recent $1bn investment in SpaceX certainly points to an increased appetite in the private sector for exploring the final frontier.
Unfortunately, previously announced speaker Adriana Ocampo, Lead Program Executive at NASA’S New Frontiers Program was unable to attend due to health reasons. Although we’re extremely sorry not to be able to welcome her in person on this occasion, she will be contributing to our Women in STEM series, so do subscribe to the Mendeley YouTube channel for her upcoming video, coming straight from NASA Headquarters! We want to keep sharing these stories from people like Adriana and Christine, to support and inspire the next generation of female scientists.
“I used to go to the roof of my house in Buenos Aires and dream about the stars,” recalls Adriana Ocampo. And as Science Program Manager at NASA, it’s probably fair to say that she’s one of those people who tends to turn their dreams into reality.
I tell students that they must have the courage to move forward with their dreams and believe in themselves. I have a mnemonic that I use, with the word STARS:
Smile, life is a great adventure
Transcend to triumph over the negative
Aspire to be the best
Resolve to be true to your heart
Success comes to those that never give up on their dreams
Born in Colombia and raised in Argentina, as a young girl she would sit with her dog on the roof of her house and spend hours wondering what those points of light actually were, and knew that science was her calling.
“Our parents always encouraged our imagination and dreaming big. I remember the moon landing. I was still in Argentina, a very young kid, July 20th, 1969, and here were humans walking in another world. I was completely fascinated by that, and NASA was the agency that enabled that. I thought: That’s where I can make my dreams come true! I would steal pots and pans from my mother’s kitchen, and my father was an electronics technician. I would make my own space models and draw lunar colonies. I even wrote to NASA, in Spanish. And somehow that letter got to somebody’s desk and they responded. That meant so much to me, that somebody actually took the time.”
When she emigrated to the United States with her family, as soon as she got off the plane in Los Angeles her first question was “Donde esta NASA? (which translates to where is NASA?”, since she did not know any English yet). And at her high school she joined the Space Exploration Post #509 who were sponsored by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA’s centre of excellence for exploration of the Solar System.
“As soon as I learned they were looking for volunteers, I immediately stood up and in my broken English said I wanted to do this. To me this was like Disneyland. Here where these people, engineers and scientists, that donated their time to provide guidance and to educate us about space exploration. At the JPL auditorium we worked with mentors who gave lectures, and eventually started doing hands-on projects. We constructed a telecommunication station to communicate with weather satellites. For the first time I experienced what it’s like to work together, and to lead a team. We had to do all these reports, and present them to the Director of JPL ,who was Dr W. Pickering at that time. It was a big responsibility. None of us had even graduated from high school yet!”
She stresses the huge importance of having mentors, such as the very bright JPL engineer Michael Kaiserman, who was the Lead Advisor for the Space Explorer Post. He gave generously his time to provide kids those opportunities and inspire them. Adriana fondly remembers the volunteer engineer and scientists who opened the doors of NASA space exploration to her.
“Thanks to the JPL mentors the Space Exploration Post was able to go on space science trips. We went to see the last Apollo launch, Apollo 17, together. We collected money by washing cars, selling cookies, etc. Those are the memories that mark you for life and I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to have being given the opportunity to grow up in such an environment. I started working at JPL from the lowest possible position, as a kid in a summer program, and someone took me on and paid me to be his assistant after I graduated from high school. And when I started going to college JPL provided me with the opportunity to continue working part-time, which facilitated for me to pay for my own education.”
But was it difficult to make it through the ranks as a woman, and did she ever feel out of place?
“Obviously there were not many girls, and on top of being a girl I spoke English with a “funny” accent, so I was kind of a double minority. But they were really open and gave me a chance. Through my experience at NASA, I’ve seen how they truly look for talent. If you bring a good idea to the table, they listen to it, and if it’s a good idea it moves forward. One of the good things I learned here is that mistakes are part of the process to mission success. When we have problems with a mission, it’s part of learning how to do it better. Blame is not part of NASA vocabulary, nor is problem, we use instead the word “challenge”. It’s about: “How can we learn to do it better next time?” That’s something that really helps build confidence, trust, and a team spirit.”
These days she spends as much time as possible helping to create the next generation of scientists and explorers, trying give young girls some of that same inspiration and support.
“It is truly important, having somebody who is a mentor, developing that relationship and seeing that a young women could see herself working in this team, having someone who believes in her. Just responding to those dreams, sometimes a thing as simple as taking the time to respond to a message, as someone once did for me, can make a tremendous difference.”
For example, she participated in a Shadow Program organised by the Society of Women Engineers, where young girls come and spend a day with people such as Adriana, to get a flavour of what life at NASA is like, and develop a relationship and dialogue which helps to guide and support them in their STEM career path. It is a well-acknowledged problem that a high number of women are lost as they make their way up the career ladder in those fields, something that Professor Athene Donald from the University of Cambridge defined as the “leaky pipeline”
“Right now we’re facing a generation of people who are retiring. We need more talent in science and engineering, so that’s one of our challenges. But for every space mission that NASA launches, one percentile of their budget is allocated to education and public outreach. Those programs help kids get involved, but they also help teachers. We need to inspire not only the students, but the teachers and the parents. Less than 1% of science teachers actually have a science degree, even at Bachelor’s level. So you need to incentivize, and educate them, so they can build that sense of “wonder” in students.”
This is not easy though, specially with women, and those, like her, who come from minority backgrounds. “I remember a case where we had a very talented young woman who had a full scholarship to Stanford, to become an engineer. Her parents wouldn’t let her go, because San Francisco was too far away. Many parents of girls from minority families don’t see becoming an astronomer, mathematician, or physicist as a career path. They think they won’t be able to support themselves.
“We need to change that paradox in society, science can be fun and is necessary for the future of the species.I strongly believe that everyone is a scientist. Anybody who is a good observer and uses her or his imagination is a scientist. We need to develop that excitement about science and space exploration into the parents, the family and society. During the International Year of Astronomy I organized an event for 24,000 students and the whole theme was ‘space adventures’ and making science hands on and fun. At the end, we gave each student an oath, the essence of which was that science is to be used for the good of humanity. We all share the responsibility for science and technology to be use to benefit society.”
At Mendeley we’re very keen to support female researchers (nothing against the male ones of course!) in their pursuit of STEM careers, and are proud to have a number of fantastic women in our team. In fact, you can hear a few of their stories about how they got into technology on our YouTube channel. If you’re interested in the subject, or are working to help young girls get inspired to follow those careers, you might like to check out the Every Girl Digital community on Facebook and join our dedicated Mendeley Women in STEM group!