Monday the 11th February was the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. People and Nature is a journal committed to diversity in every sense, and this is reflected in the excellent spread we have, of 55% female Associate Editors to 45% male, and 50/50 across Lead Editors.
Last week we asked our female Associate Editors about their experience in science and research, and what advice they would give for the next generation.
The questions we put to them were:
- What inspired you to pursue a career in science and research?
- What advice would you give to young girls and women starting out in research?
I originally studied architecture, at a time when it was considered that a woman who studied this career would devote herself to “interior decoration”, a “very feminine” activity. But I was attracted to another scale of architecture, the urban scale; closer to society, space, habitat, nature. A larger and more complex scale and, therefore, more interesting and challenging. Although we are already many women who venture into this uncertain and fascinating field, we are still not enough to reach a balance.
Frequently, women are considered “dispersed”, in reality we have greater “mental plasticity”, that is, a greater ability to understand and integrate very different realities. We had to do it if we want to be professionals, wives, mothers, friends. This ability is what allows us to venture into any area of knowledge and practice. That is the main message I try to convey to my students and to my own nieces: do not let the career you study limit your possibilities to venture into other topics, scales, worlds; distrusts the “comfort zones”, science and creativity are always at your disposal, embrace them!
Maricela De la Torre Castro
I think I was inspired by my father in first place, he was a wonderful intellectual person who had books at home all-around the place!
As a kid I loved to watch the pictures of the ocean and all the fascinating creatures living there….That combined with all summer time in Acapulco made me fall in love with science and the ocean…I guess.
[My advice is…] Endure, be stubborn, do your thing, and show that you are so capable!! But be friendly (I think science is a difficult environment for all men and women)!!
I wanted to find out about nature, I wanted to know what made it tick and I love a challenge.
[My advice is…]Embrace the challenge of science and research – there’s nothing more satisfying than figuring out a solution to part of a problem, particularly when you’ve had to work hard to find that solution!
I was first fascinated by the functioning of life and studied biology. Later in my life I was very close to a family of researchers and greatly appreciated the way they lived and the complex discussions they held over meals.
Science is a fantastic career to which you can bring all your analytical skills as well as your passion. As women, you can strongly complement your work in teams and with your own lab with our multitasking and interconnecting abilities as well as with interpersonal and introspective capacities that are probably unique. Strive to do your best while always being true to your own self
Although I am a researcher, I am not a scientist. I’m a philosopher! However, I get to work alongside scientists very often, and part of what I do involves thinking about what’s going on in scientific work, and what kinds of scientific research we should and should not be pursuing. I was interested in ethical questions about how humans treated animals and the natural world as a child (spent a lot of time arguing with the guy next door who trapped squirrels to keep them off his inedible peaches). I didn’t see until I was in my 20s how thinking about these questions could lead to a career in research, but I got there in the end!
I’d say you shouldn’t feel stuck with the thing you first worked on if it turns out that that’s not really what you want to do. My undergraduate degree was very far removed from what I’m doing now – not the same discipline at all. If you can be flexible and creative, there are generally ways of moving laterally to work on what you’ve discovered you’re really interested in. And given how much of your life you end up spending on your research, working on something that really captures your imagination is super important!
While I was working in Chile on conservation issues, I learned how complex conservation is – I experienced firsthand the multiple entities, facets, angles, and questions related to conservation work. That complex work requires many different types of professionals with many different skill sets. Largely because of a few amazing women mentors, I became excited about the scholarly route. Research gives me a chance to take a step back and help contribute to moving toward an ethical, holistic conservation — one that deeply and respectfully considers many forms of diversity.
[My advice is…] Pay attention to your passion. If you get teary-eyed when you talk about, think about, work on, or read about a topic, indulge and follow that (and yes, as a woman, maybe you’re more likely (for biological or social reasons?) to get teary-eyed with joy or other meaningful feelings – I am pretty likely to do that!).
Jana M McPherson
What inspired me? Curiosity and a desire to do my little bit for making the planet a better place.
[My Advice is…] To believe in themselves while also being open to mentorship from diverse sources; learning and acquisition of skills and knowledge never cease.
I pursued a career in Environmental Philosophy because I wanted my research to make a difference in the world. I have been passionate all my life about social and environmental justice and wanted to understand more and participate in the discussion at the interface between science and society. What actually strengthened my motivation to keep going was the small number of women pursuing an academic career where I was – I always loved challenges!
[My Advice is…] make sure you have a good and solid social network – not only colleagues but also friends outside of the academy whom you can trust and who take care of you. This is the secret of tenacity and resilience!
I was, and am still, inspired by the idea of contributing new knowledge to a larger collective and being part of the scientific community, as well as loving the creativity and exploratory nature of research.
My Advice is, don’t let fear hold you back! Find what you love and stick to it as much as possible and make the most of mentors and colleagues who have your best interests at heart, even if they are outside of your field.
I was the first in my immediate family to go to University, so a career in science and research was not even on my radar. Having completed a degree in mathematics and spent a few years in a graduate training program as a data analyst, I became disenchanted and started looking around for other options. I’d become much more aware of environmental issues in this time and decided to retrain with a Masters in Environmental Management. It was here I met my PhD supervisors and discovered ecological modelling, and I’ve not looked back!
My advice is to seek out mentors with diverse backgrounds so that you always have a range of advice to draw on. I have found that having mentors who are supportive and encouraging is half the battle. Also, make sure that you pay this back. I have found that being a mentor is just as useful for my personal development, and it means you get to help someone else out too. Finally, know that it’s okay to ask for help. We’re not expected to know everything, and collaboration is key to good science. I spent far too long being afraid to ask for help – probably due to imposter syndrome!
What inspired me? Curiosity about discovering new knowledge and the realisation my research findings could make a difference to peoples’ lives! I had a stimulating role teaching Geography. A daring career change to do a masters’ in Landscape architecture provided the opportunity to work on the London 2012 Olympic meadows. I then applied growing research expertise in the bridging role between academics and local authorities on an interdisciplinary NERC-funded project (Urban BESS) where we focused on improving ordinary urban green spaces for both people and wildlife.
My advice is to be bold! Say what you think and never hold back in expressing yourself in meetings, however intimidated you might feel initially.
I’m sure you agree the responses are as inspiring as they are heartfelt. Thank you so much to the contributors.