Girls Raised In Tennessee Science

Faces of TN Women in Stem

Melanie A. Mayes
Environmental Sciences Division
Oak Ridge National Laboratory

1) How did you become interested in the math or science field while at high school?

I didn't. In 9th grade, I wanted to take Earth Science. I was informed it was for the "slow kids" and I was ordered to take Biology (for the "smart kids"). Sadly, I was too scared to take Chemistry in 10th, and in Bio II they dissected cats (NOT an option for me). So I got out of science. In 10th grade, my Algebra II teacher was the Coach. He taught one class; someone else taught the rest. He often spent an hour working a problem on the board and then would find his solution was incorrect. After that point, I was quite lost and got out of math after Trig. Sadly, I could have finished the calc sequence in high school. All of this stuff hurt me later in my college career, and probably still does to this day. Tell kids to speak up if their teachers are inadequate!

2) What are some areas of your job that you like the most?

I enjoy the analytical/logical deduction side of science. Figuring out what happened in an experiment, and writing it up in a logical way can be great fun. Creativity in designing experiments allows a lot of freedom in thought. I also like mentoring and helping students and others do their work. It is just amazing when you realize that you have something (knowledge or advice) to give someone else that will help them. I am also continually grateful to those who have and do mentor me.

3) Please tell me a short biography.

I have always been interested in geology, thanks to an older brother who was a "rockhound" (collector of minerals, rocks). My first semester in college, therefore, I took Geology for my science credit. 1.5 years later, I realized that the journalism degree was not an appropriate choice for me, and that science was far more interesting. I completed a Bachelor of Science in Geology at University of Missouri, and took a 4-month internship at Oak Ridge National Laboratories (ORNL) while searching for grad schools. The internship lasted eight months, and I started my Master of Science at University of Tennessee in the Fall and did my research at ORNL. This was followed by a post-masters internship and ultimately a research staff position. I completed my PhD in 2006, which was pursued on a part-time basis at UT while I was a full-time researcher at ORNL.