Joey in Spain.
Dr. Michael “Joey” Pasterski has been a co-lead of the Early Career Council (ECC) since 2019, when he started the group with “The Cosmobiologist” Dr. Graham Lau. They developed the idea after a conversation with one of NfoLD's original Co-Leads, Dr. Sarah Stewart Johnson, at the Astrobiology Science Conference 2019. Together with Graham Lau, Joey brainstormed ways to engage early career folks in astrobiology with the goal of bringing together a cohort of people that share research interests and a love for astrobiology.
Joey’s first order of business was establishing a greater social media presence for NfoLD and the ECC. One of his favorite things he did was starting the social media campaign #PicturesOfLifeDetection, so that members of ECC could send in photos of their astrobiology research and post them to the NfoLD Twitter and Instagram pages. This allowed ECC members and the broader community to get a sense of the wide-reaching research applications within astrobiology. Joey helped implement a system in which control of the social media pages is cycled through members of the ECC so that they can get a feel for what running a large social media platform entailed. Joey is proud of this feature as it’s allowed early career people to get comfortable building their own social media presence.
Along with social media, Joey has been involved in organizing a variety of ECC events including Social Hours, Journal Clubs, and the ECC Research Showcases. The latter was a great opportunity for ECC members to give lightening talks and have informal discussions about their research, particularly in preparation for conferences such as the Astrobiology Science Conference or the AGU Fall Meeting. Events where ECC members could interact with steering committee members have been the most successful during Joey’s time as co-lead, and he hopes there will be more opportunities to connect the two groups in the future.
During his tenure as co-lead, Joey has gained experience planning events to get the NfoLD community engaged, while being part of an organization with a lot of moving parts. He was also able to absorb a lot by watching and learning from colleagues, such as Graham Lau, who are expert communicators. Joey says, “The biggest thing you gain from becoming engaged is context for the science you’re doing.” Good science, like good art, must fit within the context of the time – and becoming involved in your scientific community is the best way gain an understanding of the context for your research.
Though he’s moving on from his position as co-lead, having recently defended is doctoral thesis at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Joey is excited for the future of the ECC and he is planning on staying involved with ECC events. Bonnie Teece, a postdoc at the Origins and Habitability Laboratory at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will take over as the next co-lead. “Bonnie is going to do an awesome job as the next co-lead,” Joey says, and he can’t think of a better person for the job.
Joey had two pieces of advice for early career members and anyone considering a career in astrobiology:
1- Be involved in the community
2- Never be shy about reaching out to people; almost everyone is going to be willing to help or point you in the right direction
So, what’s next for Joey ?
Joey hopes to continue using the mass spectrometry imaging methods he developed during his PhD in other aspects of life detection research. He’s found creative ways to ensure impeccably clean sample preparation for the imaging of geologic samples; and then characterized the distribution of biomarkers within those samples – a technique that may prove to be incredibly important for identifying potential biomarkers in samples from Mars. Mass spectrometry imaging isn’t just applicable to astrobiology though, there are a variety of disciplines such as environmental or climate science that Joey is open to exploring in the future. That said, astrobiology holds a special spot in Joey’s heart. He is glad that the coming decades in his career are prime time for NASA’s scientific discovery with missions such as ExoMars and Dragonfly that will carry laser desorption mass spectrometers – instrumentation he’s intimately familiar with. When asked what he’s most excited about in astrobiology, he had three words: Mars Sample Return.