By Alissa Brown, Paul Caplat, Anna Csergo, Graziella Iossa, Ruth Schmidt, Elisabeth A. Maxwell, Julia J. Mlynarek, and Luke Lamb-Wotton
We are all influenced by researchers as we navigate the world of STEM. There are many negative interactions that make us question our decision to pursue research, but it is the positive interactions and the encouragement of a few that we would like to highlight on International Women’s Day. In this post, we want to thank and celebrate some of the women in ecology that have welcomed us into this field, encouraged us to pursue careers in ecology, and guided us to success.
The women in this post have had huge impacts on the progression of our careers but there are so many more. Follow us on Twitter and let us know who your female ecologist role models are using #WomeninEcology!
Dr. Vicky Meretsky (by Alissa Brown)
When I think of Dr. Vicky Meretsky, I think about when I was an undergraduate, about to conduct my own research for the first time. We were hiking along the edge of a forest with a dense understory – so thick with regrowth, that when she dove in and took two paces, I could no longer see her. As my independent research mentor, Dr. Meretsky was showing me the tornado-strewn field site where I would be measuring and identifying trees for my senior project. Dr. Meretsky is a professor at the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs, with affiliate appointments through the Biology Department, the Maurer School of Law, the Integrated Program in the Environment, the Russian and Eastern European Institute, and the Inner Asian and Uralic National Resources Center. Along with her impressive international academic accomplishments, she maintains close relationships with land managers through the Nature Conservancy, the Sycamore Land Trust, and the Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife. Dr. Meretsky has been the recipient of numerous teaching awards, inspiring budding ecologists through her rare combination of brilliance, pragmatism, clarity, and passion for conservation.
Professor Yvonne Buckley (conversation between Paul Caplat & Anna Csergo)
[PC] I arrived in Queensland in 2009 to do a postdoc with Yvonne and was pretty impressed by the authority Yvonne had acquired in the department. Were you surprised by her in any way when you started?
[AC] When I started with Yvonne, I was surprised by her ultimate support for me as a woman postdoc. I think it is her secret weapon 🙂
[PC] A valuable tip I got from her was “being straightforward and not wasting your colleagues’ time will often be more appreciated than formalities”. (Typical email: “Hi Prof. X, can you tell me Y? cheers”).
[AC] Efficiency! Yvonne transpires efficiency & focus! I’d say, just be around her, skill upgrade is guaranteed!
[PC] Indeed! Another thing: at UQ she had created a very nice team spirit (which I believe she still has at TCD), including Hon, Msc, PhD students and postdocs in sciency conversations and talking about things like gender equality or skill development, as well as organising BBQs and beach parties. I try to do the same. Can you relate with that?
[AC] Yes, with some Irish updates: fine team building is helped by secret Port in secret crystal glasses, home-made Irish-style salads, buns and BBQ, whiskey & fish & chips days on the beach, stand-up science comedy shows… Another thing that I really like about Yvonne is that she truly enjoys science. She can make everyday academic life enjoyable, fun and liberating. I’ve learned this from her.
Professor Gabriele Berg (left) and (right) Dr. Martina Köberl (by Ruth Schmidt)
My journey into the field microbial ecology started off with a plane to Egypt for a field experiment together with my former two supervisors, Prof. Gabriele Berg and Dr. Martina Köberl amidst the unrest of the Arab Spring. It couldn’t have been a more turbulent time to choose to set up collaboration on a desert farm close to Cairo whilst being thrown into the struggle of people fighting for democracy and freedom. I am incredibly thankful for the strength and support of my supervisors during times of unexpected scientific and personal challenges and for paving the way for my career in ecology. I can certainly say that this time was one of the most life-changing experiences so far and I’m grateful for having had strong female role models as inspiration. Gabriele Berg is the first female professor in natural sciences at the Technical University of Graz, Austria and has been a leading scientist in the field with a long list of academic achievements. Dr. Martina Köberl is a postdoc in Gabriele’s team who recently got a project funded by the Austrian Science Fund in cooperation with Janet K. Jansson’s team from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, USA. This experience showed me that science and politics can’t be separated and so today I’m standing up for and with those who’re fighting against oppressive (political) systems, violence and for freedom and equality!
Professor Jane Memmott (by Graziella Iossa)
I met Jane when I was a PhD student at the University of Bristol, UK. As a new mum and a new lecturer I could see her sometimes with her baby around the department. However it wasn’t until I decided to leave academia, during my first postdoc, that I really got to know her. I joined a network for women in science and, by chance, Jane joined at the same time and we were paired as mentee and mentor. As a scientist, Jane is an amazing combination of talent, passion, and enthusiasm, which she channels in a career as a community ecologist. As a mentor, she has been a complete inspiration helping me writing CVs, preparing for job interviews and providing a sounding board for my thoughts and fears. She has given me unwavering support through changes in my career direction, relocations and difficult work-life balance decisions, always with a positive attitude. She has been instrumental in my decision to come back to science after an extended period. Having had the privilege of being Jane’s mentee, I have decided to become a mentor myself as I realise what a powerful role model she is for me, and in the hope that I can be of inspiration to other women in ecology too.
Dr. Ana Beardsley Christensen (by Elisabeth A. Maxwell)
Throughout my undergraduate degree, I was fortunate to have many mentors who made positive lasting impressions on my view of science. But the individual who stands out amongst them all is my advisor, Dr. Ana Beardsley Christensen. Perhaps without even realizing it, Dr. Christensen influenced my desire to learn but also inspired my motivation to serve. She not only maintained an active research lab and taught multiple courses every year, but also participated in numerous committees and organizations. Dr. Christensen, despite her hectic schedule, was always available to talk with students, myself included. While herself a marine invertebrate physiologist, Dr. Christensen kindled my love of marine ecology. On countless occasions, we would discuss the complexities of the marine environment (on which I remain focused) and the interactions between and among the species that live there. As stimulating as the intellectual conversations were, these are not the moments that had the greatest impact on my development as a person. Several times when I was struggling to keep up with responsibilities of life, Dr. Christensen was there to be a sounding board and supported me with kind words of encouragement. I think that in ecology we can be particularly appreciative of the fact that a system is more than the sum of the parts, and Dr. Christensen certainly recognized that a student was more than the sum of their grades. Of all of the female scientists that I have encountered, Dr. Christensen is one of the most sincere, thoughtful, and caring people who I have had the privilege to meet.
Professor May Berenbaum (by Julia J. Mlynarek)
I think Prof. May Berenbaum is a mentor to many women in ecological entomology. I have only spoken to her a couple of times and have never visited her lab (my research differs from hers) but her career clearly demonstrates that women can succeed in Entomology and hence I consider her one of my role models. Her research focuses on chemical ecological entomology. Her research lab’s focus is on “elucidating chemical mechanisms underlying interactions between insects and their host plants and for applying ecological principles in developing sustainable management practices for natural and agricultural communities.” (quote from her university faculty page at Illinois – UC). The research in her lab is fantastic, funded by major funding agencies. She’s a member of the National Academy of Sciences, chaired National Research Council committees. She was president of the Entomological Society of America, was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Obama, etc (there too many accolades to mention). She also seems to be able to not take herself too seriously (see here). I’m sure she has had trials and tribulations throughout her career but she is taken seriously in entomology, ecology and science. Isn’t that really what we strive for! So even though we have only met a couple of times in passing at conferences, she has influenced my determination to succeed in entomology and keep myself grounded at the same time.
Dr. Jacquelyn Gill (by Luke Lamb-Wotton)
Navigating the field of science as a student, whether undergraduate or graduate, can be convoluted and students often have little training in dealing with the many aspects of academia. I’d like to highlight one professor in particular who has been particularly influential during the short time I have been in science: Dr. Jacquelyn L. Gill. Dr. Gill is an Assistant Professor at the University of Maine with a joint appointment in the School of Biology and Ecology and the Climate Change Institute and is widely known for many things. If you know Dr. Gill at all, you know her enthusiasm for megafauna (mammoths, in particular) helped her to identify the ecological consequences associated with end-Pleistoicene megafaunal extinctions. You would also know that her tireless advocacy for diversity and inclusion in STEM, as well as science communication initally helped launch the March for Science movement and get her recognized as a finalist for the 2017 Mainer of Year. Little did I know that joining Dr. Gill’s lab during the final year of my undergrad would not only provide me with a mentor who makes a genuine effort for her students, but somebody I could look up to and strive to emulate as well inspire my motivation to succeed. Even after moving on from Dr. Gill’s lab, she continues to provide advice and support; something I think can be a rare in academia and one reason I would like to recognize her efforts on this International Women’s Day.
Alissa Brown is a PhD candidate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Going into academia was not a straight-forward or obvious direction for Alissa, so having formal and informal mentorship along the way has been crucial for her.
Paul Caplat is a spatial ecologist working on species’ response to global change at multiple scales. He uses different types of modelling and analytical approaches to link population biology, landscape ecology and macro-ecology, mostly in complex forest-farmland landscapes. He loves trees, and did two postdocs working on them, both with great women scientists (Prof. Madhur Anand, and Prof. Yvonne Buckley, featuring here today).
Anna Csergo is a quantitative ecologist with a focus on global change biogeography and sustainable life support systems. She develops models and theory that encapsulate pattern-generating processes over large biogeographic scales. She has held various academic positions in Romania, Canada, Australia and Ireland, including a Marie-Curie postdoctoral fellowship with Prof. Yvonne Buckley.
Ruth L. Schmidt, PhD, is a microbial ecologist and is currently working on finding ways to create climate change resilient microbial communities. She is currently a postdoc at the Institut Armand Frappier, University of Quebec in Canada. Throughout her career she’s had inspiring women as mentors who gave her the strength and trust to pursue a career in science.
Graziella Iossa is an evolutionary ecologist interested in behavioural and population ecology and is currently exploring interdisciplinary approaches to link ecosystem services and human health, in the context of antimicrobial resistance. She is an early career researcher at the University of Lincoln, UK.
Elisabeth A. Maxwell recently graduated from the University of Maine’s School of Marine Science with a masters in marine biology and a masters in marine policy. Over the years, her interests have grown from marine conservation to fisheries management and beyond. Each step of her career has be advised by wonderful mentors including many influential females.
Julia J. Mlynarek, PhD, is a research scientist in evolutionary ecology and entomology in Canada. She always had a fondness for natural history. She has been lucky to have met the right mentors that have encouraged her to keep asking questions.
Luke Lamb-Wotton is a M.S. student at Florida International University studying the response of coastal Everglades marshes to sea-level rise. He got to his current position through hard-work and some incredible mentors all of whom he wishes he had time to recognize here, as they are all women in STEM.
Featured image: By Eryk (Wiki Ed) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Prof Yvonne Buckley: http://www.tcd.ie/Zoology/yvonne%204.jpg
Professor May Berenbaum: Photo credit L. Brian Stauffer https://news.illinois.edu/view/6367/204506
Dr. Ana Beardsley Christensen collecting marine invertebrates in Texas. Photo credit Renata Alitto
Dr. Jacquelyn Gill: Photo credit Gregory Rec
Dr. Gabriele Berg: https://loop.frontiersin.org/people/27010/overview
Dr. Martina Köberl: https://www.tugraz.at/institute/ubt/institute/staff/