Becoming scientists and overcoming barriers.
TW: This is a powerful and very important conversation, however, there are references to systemic racism, sexism, sexual assault and discrimination which some listeners may find triggering. [32-47 minutes]
Pursuing a career in marine science can be hugely rewarding. You can make a living studying the ocean and its inhabitants, and answering those important questions that one day might help save our seas – pretty cool, right? But setting out on the scientific path can also be a daunting and (at times) overwhelming experience. Where do you even begin? How can you get a foot in the door? Should you do a PhD? What should your research question be? And what if you don’t ‘fit the mould’?! If you’re about to take the plunge into science or are just considering dipping in a toe, then fear not - this week we have amazing shark scientists Alifa Haque, Catherine Macdonald and Jasmine Graham on this podcast to discuss their own journeys into science, the triumphs and challenges along the way, and any advice they have for budding scientists out there. [2.30]
We learn all about their fascinating areas of research, and how they got to be where they are now. Each of their stories is different – from discovering the joy of science at a very early age, to realising a true passion after university. We talk about what being a ‘scientist’ means to them, and discuss how there’s no “right” way to get into science, as long as you have a curiosity for your subject and follow the scientific method of inquiry. But it definitely helps to speak to as many people as possible, in different roles, to learn from their diverse experiences and discover all the many options available. People are always happy to give advice, and it helps to develop your own unique path into science. We also talk about the power of collaboration, and how valuable it is to bring people from different backgrounds onto your team.
This episode has a strong message about diversity, equality and representation in the marine sciences. [32.0] Although some progress has been made, deep-seated biases, inequalities and barriers still remain that prevent certain people from pursuing and remaining in careers in science, including women and particularly women of colour, and LGBTQ+ people. For example, recent statistics show that just 30% of the world’s researchers are women – of which women of colour make up a far smaller percentage. In 2019 in the U.S., black women represented just 2.5% of the science and engineering workforce, Latina and Hispanic women 2.3%, and indigenous women 0.07% . And, according to Pride in STEM, 28% of LGBT+ people have considered leaving their jobs due to discrimination . There is still a long way to go in making science accessible for all – and that is something we discuss throughout this episode. Jasmine, Catherine and Alifa share very personal stories of what they have experienced, and talk openly about how it has affected not only them personally, but also their careers – from changing direction and leaving harmful situations, to creating new, better spaces for others. Jasmine reflects on her decision to co-found Minorities in Shark Sciences (MISS) and her work on the MarSci-LACE project, talking about how her own experiences of being excluded and discriminated against, and those of others, led her to create her own ‘table’ – but ultimately, that she hopes one day, we will all have a seat at the same one. Catherine also discusses her motivation to collaborate with MISS by offering up the services of Field School and talks about how those in more senior positions can make room for underrepresented minorities in science.
We have a conversation about how the scientific community more broadly can work to make science a more inclusive, representative and accessible profession, on both an individual and institutional level – including how to be a good ally. Jasmine, Alifa and Catherine then offer their advice to anyone wanting to get into science but concerned they might not fit into society’s idea of a ‘scientist’.
If you enjoyed this episode and would like to read more, you can find Dr Catherine Macdonald's article in the 11th issue of the Save Our Seas Magazine - Towards better marine science.
About our guests
Alifa works in the coastal region of Bangladesh especially in the south-eastern coastal areas where the majority of peoples’ lives are fishery-dependent. Hence, the fishing pressure is unimaginable. She has extended her work in the southwestern areas recently to include the conservation of sawfish.
In her DPhil project, she will be broadly looking at how the biological sustainability of species can be used to provide insights for sustainable fisheries and by-catch mitigation with a focus on sharks and rays in Bangladesh. Her goal is to initiate evidence-based marine conservation in Bangladesh which is inclusive of the primary resource users, the fishers.
Jasmin is a shark scientist and environmental educator who specializes in elasmobranch (shark and ray) ecology and evolution. Her research interests include smalltooth sawfish movement ecology and hammerhead shark phylogeny. She is a member of the American Elasmobranch Society and serves on their Student Affairs Committee as the Early Career Representative. Jasmin completed internships with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Fort Johnson Marine Lab and FWC Division of Marine Fisheries Management. She worked as an instructor for the Saturday at the Sea program through the Florida State University Office of STEM Teaching Activities.
Jasmin has a passion for science education and making science more accessible to everyone. She is project coordinator for the MarSci-LACE project, which is focused on researching and promoting best practices to recruit, support and retain minority students in marine science. Jasmin is the President and CEO of Minorities in Shark Sciences (MISS), an organization dedicated to supporting women of colour in shark sciences. She is excited to help open doors for more underrepresented minority students to join the exciting field of marine science. Jasmin’s work encompasses the areas of science communication, social justice, outreach, education and conservation. She cares deeply about protecting endangered and vulnerable marine species, particularly elasmobranchs.
Dr Catherine Macdonald
Catherine is an interdisciplinary marine conservation biologist studying shark and ray biology, ecology, fisheries, and conservation. Her research interests also include marine ecosystems, human-wildlife conflict, and wildlife tourism. She is one of the co-founders and the Director of Field School, an interdisciplinary marine science training and education program, and a Lecturer in Marine Conservation Biology at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School for Marine and Atmospheric Science.