Valerie Payre

Wiess Postdoctoral Associate, Rice University


See STEM as a tool to help you solve your questions.

What do you do?

In the between sedimentology and petrology, my work investigates igneous and sedimentary systems on Mars to explore ancient magmatism and constrain the nature of the martian crust.

Why did you choose this field?

Up to my Freshman year, I wanted to be a virologist. Biology, genetics, viruses inspired me, I wanted to help and save people. In my Sophomore year, I realised that Biology was not for me. I loved it, especially genetics and virus systems, but I could not see myself working in a lab all day. Since Middle School, I have always loved Geology, volcanoes, learning how the Earth works, how Geology combines several scientific fields. I thought about Geology as a passion more than an actual job. Yet, I knew there were universities proposing cool Geosciences program that combined Earth Sciences, Oceanography and Climatology. I went for it, I had nothing to lose. At first, I was kind of disappointed, I was expecting a great program, learning wonderful things about Earth. I was ready for all of it. At the end, I could not understand anything (well, most of it) about what the faculties were teaching us, I thought about stopping the degree several times. But I knew that I needed a diploma at one point. So I pursued. During my junior year, I was an intern in a different University, discovering how scientists investigate the history of volcanoes. I get passioned about it, I knew this was exactly what I wanted to do. During my Master's Degree, I was an intern for 6 months in an american University (I am French), I discovered petrology, how lab analyses and modeling can help understanding magmatic systems. I learnt more in 6 months than during my whole university student life. More importantly, I discovered Planetary Sciences though conferences and reading groups. I did not even know that it was possible to study rocks on other planets! I get fascinated about Mars, I wanted to be part of a martian team, studying red volcanoes... Coming back to France, I directly contacted a researcher working on Mars petrology - not many researchers speak martian in France - and I ended up doing a Ph.D on Mars geology, working in the Curiosity rover team with two great advisors! Now, I am eager to pursue martian investigations!

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

I wish younger me would have been aware of missions going to other planetary bodies to study Geology. I was always interested in space, but not as much as Space Lovers. I am sure that if I had known this was possible, I would have millions more knowledges on the universe, space and planets! I have to catch up!

Why do you love working in STEM?

STEM is great, we combine all scientific fields to overcome each problem we encounter. In my work, I need physics, chemistry, programming, and geology (and sometimes biology: let s find life on Mars!) to fulfil each of my research project. And everything is applied to another planet. It is captivating how all scientific fields merge together for a single purpose: better understanding the world and universe around us. When I wake up every morning, I am excited to work on my projects. A huge part of our work as researchers is reading and writing papers. Although it is hard to start the writing, it is the best moment to be focused, to think about our interpretations, discuss and question our conclusions, and that is how new ideas emerge! Although the writer block is quite common and really annoying, I do love going through this process because I know it will lead to new horizons to explore.

Best advice for next generation?

See STEM as a tool to help you solve your questions. STEM is not an endless ravine, if you have a dream, whatever it is - even not STEM-related-, just go for it. You will be lost sometimes, you may want to stop courses or the degree, but never forget your dream and objectives. The desire, the perseverance, the hard work will get you there and nobody will stop you. I will just say: Never give up!

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

It is an easy one, but I have always repeated myself this quote: "When there's a will, there's a way!"

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