When she began her graduate studies in kinesiology/biomechanics program, Melissa Scott-Pandorf intended to be a college professor, teaching classes and following a research track, possibly in her hometown of Callaway, Nebraska. Today, after earning her doctorate in 2005, she is an exercise scientist at the NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, working on the Exercise Physiology and Countermeasures Project.
So, what happened? When she arrived in the Department of Health and Human Performance, she never considered NASA as a career destination. But the department’s collaboration and networking with JSC showed her the many opportunities available for applying her skills to settings beyond a college campus.
Scott-Pandorf models techniques to create exercise prescription planning in order to improve the exercise counter-measures on the space station in zero gravity. But, zero gravity cannot be created on the ground.
Team members take data from the ground and from the crew members as they exercise on the space station, calculate some biomechanical characteristics of their movements and incorporate the information into computer modeling. This data provides scientists with an idea of the differences that can occur between zero gravity and full-gravity exercise.
She also likes her team members and colleagues at JSC. “I’m pretty lucky. There are some amazing, intelligent individuals that I get to work with on a daily basis,” she said.
The amount of research equipment available to HHP students, the close proximity to JSC and the extensive collaboration with NASA definitely opened doors for Scott-Pandorf. What began as an internship became a permanent position shortly after her graduation from UH.
Her advice: “When you come into your graduate program, don’t already have everything planned out and think this is what you’re going to do. Be open to the possibility of many other things.”
- Martha Hayes