RZSS WildGenes - International Women's Day

08/03/2019 in RZSS

Encouraging girls and women into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects and careers, which are often considered very masculine subjects, has always been a huge but important challenge. Even if women start study or working in STEM related fields, it can then be difficult to keep them in those roles. The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) recently published a progress review, Tapping all our Talents 2018, which reviewed the challenges faced by STEM in Scotland. It also explored what changes could be made to get more girls interested in STEM subjects, and retain more women in STEM workplaces. 

Dr Caroline Asiimwe performs a livestock check for Budongo Conservation Field Station

Above: Dr Caroline Asiimwe from Budongo Conservation Field Station performing a veterinary treatment under the watchful eye of her daughter.

Working at RZSS, I find myself surrounded by a fantastic team of people working in a whole variety of STEM related roles. But today, on International Women’s Day, I feel especially proud to be part of a team that includes so many women. Reading through the RSE report, I am particularly struck by the need to overcome misperceptions of what STEM subjects and jobs are and who they are for (everyone!), as well as a need for greater visibility and leadership from women working in these careers.

Being a scientist can be tough at times, but it is also an incredibly rewarding job. For me, one of the highlights of my role is getting to meet and work with so many incredible people. Continuing our blog theme from last year, I’ve asked three inspiring women that we work with to help raise the visibility of women in STEM, explain what their jobs involve to help break down the misperceptions, and offer some advice for aspiring scientists.

 



Dr. Caroline Asiimwe works at the Budongo Conservation Field Station (BCFS) in Uganda, a project supported by RZSS for over 10 years. As a wildlife veterinarian and conservation coordinator, Caroline’s job is to monitor and manage the health of wildlife, especially chimpanzees. Caroline also promotes awareness within local communities and helps to mitigate potential human-wildlife conflicts, for example by promoting harmony/coexistence between people and wildlife.

Dr Caroline Asiimwe conducting community outreach for the Budongo Conservation Field Station

What do you do in a typical week as a scientist?

My week is never clearly scheduled because as a vet, I mainly attend emergencies. However, I can describe my week based on two scenarios. When there are no emergencies, I typically carry out focal chimpanzee monitoring, non-invasive sample collection, basic sample analysis especially for gastrointestinal parasites and urinalysis. I also do livestock health monitoring and treatment, and then a school out-reach session. When there is an emergency and a chimpanzee is caught in a trap, the week is filled up with running up and down in the jungle to track down and rescue the chimpanzee from the trap. If the chimpanzee is from a habituated community, then we have to do daily follows in that week to monitor progress and if there is need for post-operative care.

What do you enjoy the most about being a scientist?

I love two things about my work, saving the lives of chimpanzees and working with primary school children.

How can we inspire other girls and women to be scientists?

Although becoming a scientist is a personal choice, some people chose the path after being inspired by the people around them. An example is my own daughter, now in form one. Every day that she has accompanied me to the field to work with animals has made her feel inspired into joining the veterinary field. This has been my experience with many other school children that get exposure at a tender age. As women in science fields, exposing the girls to what we do so that they see the importance of our contributions to the globe is one way of inspiring girls and women into joining our field of science. 

Innovative children can be so explorative that sometimes you find all your remotes or phones disassembled as they figure out how to reconstruct them. We should encourage girls to be innovative and even when they make mistakes, we should help them stand up again

Parents, guardians and teachers should be attentive and identify early scientific talents and encourage rather than force career directions in children.

In one sentence, what is your advice for young scientists?

Believe in what you do and do what you believe in.

 


 

Geraldine Werhahn is a DPhil graduate student at WildCRU, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford. Geraldine is conservation biologist specialising in carnivores of the Asian high altitudes has been collaborating with RZSS WildGenes to investigate the taxonomy of the Himalayan wolf.

RZSS WildGenes - International women's day - Geraldine Werhahn 

What do you do in a typical week as a scientist?

It varies a lot from a field work to a desk work week.

Let’s start with a field work week. In the field I spend my days collecting data about wolves and their prey by covering larger areas. I estimate herbivore abundance, collect faecal samples, and conduct social surveys with local people according to systematic methods in my Himalayan study areas. I am also always on the lookout and keep my senses open for any interesting observations and insights about the ecosystem I am in. I wake up early every day to catch the animals’ activity at dawn, and at dusk I similarly scan the landscape with my spotting scope. Field days are characterized by walking large distances, taking lots of notes and photographs, and are interspersed with rare sudden moments of excitement triggered by the glimpse of a wolf or other elusive animal.

My desk work days on the other hand are busy with reading the latest scientific literature, running statistics, and writing up my findings. These days can also be quite exciting, especially when my collected data reveals exciting new insights about the wolves and their prey. These days also include tasks around sharing and spreading my research findings and their conservation implications with the professional community and interested public.

In short, my weeks vary a lot over the course of a year. Being a scientist requires flexibility, endurance and an ability to constantly acquire new skills, all of which makes it a very exciting profession!

What do you enjoy the most about being a scientist?

The excitement of expanding the human knowledge boundaries, and the creative, innovative process involved in doing so.

How can we inspire other girls and women to be scientists?

By nourishing curiosity and creativity, and the sense for exploration and asking questions. It is also very important to provide opportunities to professionally grow in meaningful ways. And it goes beyond that, being a scientist cultivates a way of thinking and perception of the world that is based on evidence and logic which can be beneficial to many aspects of life.

In one sentence, what is your advice for young scientists?

Be persistent and chose a little explored research topic that you feel passionate about.

 


 

Chansorphea Srey is a biologist and lecturer at Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP), Cambodia. Chansorphea teaches biochemistry and biology, as well as working as a laboratory technician.

RZSS WildGenes - International women's day - Chansorphea Srey

What do you do in a typical week as a scientist?

As well as teaching, I primarily work on two projects. The first is on a DEFRA funded project with Fauna and Flora International (FFI) and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS). Here I work as a technician within the conservation genetics laboratory, working on the genetic analysis of elephant ivory. Through this lab position I am also working on the genetic analysis of  Siamese crocodiles. The second project, funded by RUPP, involves breeding and maintaining silkworm stocks to provide a resource for research and teaching of silkworm rearing to the Cambodian community. 

What do you enjoy the most about being a scientist?

I enjoy working in a conservation genetic laboratory and enjoy gaining new knowledge and experiences.

How can we inspire other girls and women to be scientists?

In my country most of the women are housewives, although some women have jobs related to social aspects and I think that is easier than science. As my observation, most scientists are men because scientists need to work hard, think deep and it can be dangerous. But science is an important subject that can solve problems and it is fact. I love science, and everybody needs science to live. Without science we cannot develop our country.

In one sentence, what is your advice for young scientists?

I am very proud with my work because I am a woman and I can do it just like men. I hope that every woman can do as I do and enjoy it.

 


 

RZSS is extremely grateful to the players of People's Postcode Lottery for supporting our conservation work.

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