'I can do more than I thought I could do': A conversation with Amanda Lopez

'I can do more than I thought I could do': A conversation with Amanda Lopez

In this episode of Further Together, Lopez tells host Michael Holtz that she has wanted to be a scientist for as far back as she can remember. Her childhood included a love of Bill Nye the Science Guy and Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" series. Lopez says no one in her family was surprised she wanted to pursue the sciences. She also discusses how she gravitated toward coastal studies, the importance of mentorship and collaboration, the importance of the NASA NPP and so much more.

Listen to Episode 144

Transcript for Episode 144

Center: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

“It was not a surprise to anyone when I became a scientist,” said Mandy Mulcan Lopez, Ph.D. “It just didn’t feel like anything else was the right fit for me.”

Lopez is a fellow in the NASA Postdoctoral Program, where she is a geoscientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

“From a very young age, I was obsessed with science,” said Lopez in a recent interview on Further Together: the ORAU Podcast. “It was ‘Bill Nye the Science Guy’ or bust for me when I was a kid. My parents used to take me to the library so that I could rent the Carl Sagan PBS ‘Cosmos’ show and watch the tapes.”

Lopez was raised in Florida, where she was inspired to study coastal geology. Her areas of research include wetland hydrology, marine renewable energy and marine pollution. She is currently researching wildfire impacts in coastal transition zones.

As she begins the second year of her NPP Fellowship, Lopez is reflecting on the opportunities the NPP has offered her, and the ways in which she has grown.

“It has already shown me that I can do more than I thought I could do,” she said. “I'm working on a project now that is tangential to the type of work I've done before, but the methods that I'm using, the finer points of the science are different and especially in the methodologies. These are brand new things to me. So, I'm kind of starting from scratch as a newbie on a lot of stuff.”

In addition to the excellent research opportunities Lopez is receiving through the NPP, she also remarked on the mentorship she has received. Lopez’s mentor has helped her network with others whose research interests are similar to hers, leading her to collaborate with scientists she may not have otherwise had the chance to work with.

“Having my mentor really invest in me has helped me gain some confidence—going in as an early career scientist—that I can do it,” Lopez explained. “And when I don't know what to do, I don't feel too intimidated to ask my mentor, because she's made herself so available and open to me about almost any question, even sometimes the silly ones. And having someone on the inside to ask questions to also helps.”

Lopez has also had the chance to act as a mentor towards other young professionals since starting the NPP, working with three interns with whom she makes a point to share her mentor’s advice and guidance.

As Lopez finished the interview, she reflected on the ways the NPP has helped her grow professionally since she began the program over a year ago.

“The NASA Postdoctoral Program has allowed me to try new things and jump onto projects that are different, out of my wheelhouse, just completely opened me up to possibilities that I don't think happen in other postdocs. The way that the NPP is structured with its funding and its oversight and how you're mentored or advised, it really lends itself to you diversifying if you want to. And there's a lot of flexibility in that that I find refreshing.”