Sunday 11th February is International Day of Women and Girls in Science. To mark this day and celebrate the occasion, we asked some of our Associate Editors to share some of their inspirations and experiences in an effort to find what it really means to be a woman working in ecology.
Who are the women in science that inspire you?
I get inspired by women in science every day – from my amazing and fantastic female students full of enthusiasm, passion and creativity, to the inspiring senior females that pioneered several fields of research and stood up when science was a much more male dominated environment than it is today. Imma Oliveras
I am constantly inspired by so many of the female scientists around me: those who I have a chance to work with personally; those I see at conferences, on twitter, in the press, in books, in the classroom, in the field; and to the many people whose work I read and follow in the scientific literature. I feel incredibly lucky to have a chance to interact with female scientists of all ages and stages, and a diversity of backgrounds. I am particularly inspired by the women who chart their own courses, are unabashedly themselves, make science work for them – and see and create opportunities where there were apparently none. Jane Catford
I red Marie Curie’s biography a while ago and , wow, did she have a strong drive to do science?! She had to sit behind a curtain to listen to the lectures as not to distract the male students. I’d say! Good thing those days are over, thanks to her and many other female pioneers and their male supporters. May Berenbaum is one of the godmothers of chemical ecology of plant-insect interactions, super smart and always willing to share her knowledge with (young) colleagues and the public alike. Louise Vet is the Director of the Netherlands Institute of Ecology and a grand lady in plant-herbivore-parasitoid research. I distinctly remember reading an interview with her in the Dutch Biological Society (NIBI) newsletter where she described in a very pragmatic way how to have a great career in science and raise two young kids. Always carry a notebook for writing up an idea that may pop up. If you just happen to be on the bike with one kid up front and one in the back – typical Dutch this – stop at a safe place, grab the booklet, make a note of your idea, get back on the bike, continue cycling. Nowadays you might use your cellphone to record the idea handsfree, I suppose…. Nicole Van Dam
Broadly, I have been inspired by Nancy Grimm, Kay Gross, Mary Power, Katie Suding, and Sandra Diaz to name a few. I have also been inspired by my mentors, watching them balance a successful career with the life they wanted, Amy Tuininga, Melinda Smith, and Diane Pataki. Mostly, however, I am inspired by my peers, we call each other our science life partners, Sally Koerner, Kimberly La Pierre, Cynthia Chang and Torrance Hanley. Meghan Avolio
The woman that are open about their ambitions in science AND about the joy it brings to be a mother – despite the sleepless nights and flexibility that it requires if children are sick etc. you do not have to be in the office 24/7 to be a successful scientist. Being at school, may get you the distance to reflect on the ‘problem you are solving’, making you more efficient in the end. Saying ‘no’ without feeling guilty is a trait that these women possess. Liesje Mommer
I have been inspired by many good scientific women, particularly those I have collaborated closely. I could highlight the role of my co-supervisor which is a top-level scientist and a role model. She has mentored me many times and help me to become an independent and qualified researcher. I hope to become a good mentor someday too… Paloma Ruiz-Benito
Margherita Hack for her unconventional views and her ability to explain to ordinary people a science as complex as fascinating. Francesca Cotrufo, my co-tutor of PhD for her ability in founding raising and in fostering her students. Giovanna Battipaglia
What inspired you to pursue a career in ecology?
I was all set to be a geologist and had actually completed my geology final-year project in advance, during my second year, before planning to go on to specialize in geology for my final year as an undergraduate. But, then, during the summer, there was a two-week botany field course that totally changed my plans. The field excursions were led by Max Walters (who later became my PhD supervisor), Peter Grubb and David Coombe. It was a revelation to see how Peter and David “read” the plants and used the plant communities to interpret the habitat conditions. On an outing to the Breck, I can still remember learning that Cynoglossum officinale is often found by rabbit burrows because it likes nutrients and disturbance, and that Cerastium arvense reveals that its poor grassland habitat was once an arable field. I was amused to discover that it gives exactly the same signal in my successional grassland sites on Öland. I didn’t end up as an ecologist directly: I took a few detours via systematics, palaeoecology and population genetics… but those subject areas are perfect background for an ecologist. Honor Prentice
I have always been intrigued by phytochemicals, initially for curing human diseases. When I learned why plants make this enormous diversity of unique secondary chemicals, namely to manage the many interactions in their natural communities, my love for ecology was born. I became a “chemical ecologist” and the rest is history. Nicole Van Dam
A deep love for nature – I grew up spending lots of time outdoors and close to the Pyrenees mountains, and I have had a huge curiosity on understanding the ecology of forest from early age. Also, witnessing forest degradation, I wanted to contribute to a better world and to forest protection. Imma Oliveras
Growing up I loved being outdoors and in high school I also realized that I love science. In college I learned that I could combine my two passions into a career. Meghan Avolio
Sounds very clichéd, but I knew that I wanted to do ecology before I knew that ecology even existed. There was no one experience, event or person that I can say “inspired” me per se, but growing up in the country, with nature all around, was no doubt fundamental. That I can combine my love and fascination in nature (and especially plants!) with the heady goal of trying to “save the world” meant it was a pretty obvious thing to try to pursue. But, I realise that not everyone has the opportunity, support and confidence to pursue what they love, so I feel incredibly fortunate in that regard. Jane Catford
After I began academic training in plant physiology, I found out that I am more interested by ‘bigger’ questions or trying to understand messy, poorly constrained and complex systems involving individuals interacting with each other in a stochastic environment. Susan Schwinning
Probably my inner curiosity and the exciting routine as a scientist: there is no routine. I enjoy every-day new tasks including critical thinking, constant learning and collaboration! Paloma Ruiz-Benito
Ecology is an interdisciplinary field that straddles biology, environmental science, geography and Earth Science. I’m a curious person who loves to investigate the life processes, interactions between organisms and species adaptation. As an ecologist I have the privilege to study all those aspects and to use my knowledge for practical issues such as species conservation or natural resources management. Giovanna Battipaglia
How can we can we inspire more women and girls to pursue a career in science on a global scale?
Based on my own experience, it is not so much a matter of inspiring women and girls, but removing prejudicial barriers for women and let them freely discover their passions, which may be scientific or not. There are so many subtle and not so subtle signals sent to girls and young women that insinuate that their understanding is limited, that they may be studious but have less natural talent compared to a boy. Girls and young women internalize these perceptions and make different career choices because of it. Still, I grew up in a society where it was more or less accepted that women could do any job. Globally, this cannot be taken for granted, of course. So in the first instance, girls need to be told and have cause to believe that women can do any job. It certainly helps to have women role models to make them believers, but you also need men (fathers and educators) to reinforce that message. Globally, science is dominated by men, therefore men must push the message that women are capable and welcome to walk in their footsteps. Susan Schwinning
Having presented quite a few ‘female scientist career’ talks, I learned that we need female scientist role models with different solutions. My solutions to managing a career in science with two kids may be very different from my female colleague next door or in India. It is important that the solutions we find are accepted and supported by our colleagues (male and female), our families and communities. Last but not least: it has to be clear that you can be yourself all the time and have a fruitful career in science. No need to become a mimic of the ‘male role model’. This is one of the most asked questions that I receive after these talks. It seems to be a fear that many women in science seem to foster. If you want a career in science, just go for it girl! Nicole Van Dam
I think there are many ways of inspiring future generations. The range of options goes from education to equal opportunities. It could be particularly inspiring to select and reflect on key examples, common barriers and useful advice to become a successful women scientist with a good work-life balance. Paloma Ruiz-Benito
Mentoring of young female scientists is important. I also see than Gender bias training help to at least increase awareness about the biases that we all have. Liesje Mommer
We need more role models. While I was getting my master’s degree at Fordham University there were only two female faculty out of ~15 faculty, neither of whom had kids at the time. This was the closest I came to leaving science. I didn’t see anyone who was living the kind of life I wanted for myself. This of course only applies to countries where women are encouraged to get an education and have the freedom to create the career they want for themselves. Meghan Avolio
To me it is necessary to proceed on a political and social level: fighting to obtain more rights for woman (support during maternity and children care, but also more control on open positions, since many positions-in particular high position- are practically closed for women). On the other hand we can organize forums and events for young women to encourage them to “go on”, to show positive examples of women that managed to be scientists and mothers and wives. This could help them to not feel alone. During my post doc in Switzerland I was lucky to follow some courses (during a programme for women is science) when they helped teach time management, multiple task managements and in particular how to deal with aggressive male colleagues. Giovanna Battipaglia
I could write a lot on this point, but I’ll let a stunning painting in the Irish Academy of Sciences do the talking: you cannot be what you cannot see. Here’s to seeing and being! Jane Catford
Read more about International Day of Women and Girls in Science on the official website and the United Nations website. You can also head over to the Applied Ecologist’s blog for more blog posts about women in science, and also the Methods blog for a post about bias and role models from Lee Hsiang Liow.