The 8th March 2021 marks International Women's Day; to celebrate, we spoke to some of the PML team about their challenges, successes and hopes for the future.
Dr Ruth Airs is a Senior Analytical Biogeochemist. She is also Head of Postgraduate Studies at PML and has a wellbeing role within the ARIES DTP:
"I’m very conscious about supporting my female colleagues if they do have extra challenges, especially at the moment with childcare and so on. I feel like women can be less likely to put themselves forward, so I’m always watchful for opportunities to boost people up.
"I’m also really passionate about wellbeing, particularly within my role supporting postgraduate students. I’m really keen that we do everything we can to support our students, so I think initiatives like PML’s buddy system are really important as part of helping them feel less isolated.
"I’ve been so impressed with how much learning has happened this last year about how to function, how to work effectively, how to protect your home life. It’s really music to my ears when I hear students talking about how they’re taking breaks and have a good routine, all these things that are so good for your mental health."
Dr Mahasweta Saha is a Senior Scientist and Marine Chemical Ecologist, with a focus on chemical communication between seaweeds and microbes:
"I’ve realized lately that I am very resilient. My passion and love for science has driven me, but I have had to make sacrifices in my personal life for that. There are a lot of barriers, particularly when you're coming from an underprivileged background.
"I often hear things like, 'We need to inspire women in science,' but that’s not the problem. There are already women who are inspired and in science, but behaviour towards them in the sector still needs to change. Instead of trying to push more women into the pipeline, fix the pipeline.
"These are the things I think we need to work on together as a community. It's not just a problem that should be tackled by women, but also by men recognizing how they can help their female colleagues beyond just pushing them in science. We need to make the environment such that women can sustain and enjoy their scientific careers."
Dr Rachel Coppock is a Marine Ecologist, investigating microplastics in the marine environment:
"I didn’t follow the typical path into science, as I took a 26-year break between education. I think it’s important to know that your life doesn’t have to be planned out and it's alright to not know exactly what you want to do with your life at 18.
"Being able to do that absolutely depends on individual circumstances, though. I was lucky to have a lot of family support, but a lot of things around income and childcare are out of people’s control and they’re so key to enabling people to move into research later in life.
"I think when you’re younger, going through a PhD can be quite overwhelming. It’s still been very challenging for me and I have a lot of imposter syndrome, but having had that experience of life and dealing with difficult situations has really helped me take it in my stride."
Dr Ana Queirós is a Senior Benthic Ecologist, with a focus on blue carbon:
"One thing that’s been on my mind in the last year particularly is that science is not a one-person job, it’s a community effort. When we celebrate success in science, it’s so important to remember that’s often not the product of an individual, but of a set of circumstances, the team behind that individual, people that support you in all different ways.
"Creating possibilities for cross-pollination of ideas across research disciplines is really nice, because when you start talking about the bigger ambitions for marine research, it’s definitely not a one discipline thing or even the gains that you get from one individual piece of research. It's teams collaborating and approaching ideas from different angles.
"It makes me feel really positive about being a scientist. When you’re younger, you imagine the stereotype of a man working alone in a lab, but science is really the opposite of that! As you progress in your career, you realize it's all about about sharing advancements, working with others and using people’s skills."
Zara Botterell is a PhD student with the University of Essex, based at PML. Her PML supervisors are Dr Pennie Lindeque and Dr Nicola Beaumont:
"My PhD research, around microplastics, has meant me doing lab-based work, going on research cruises and taking samples out in the field. I love that science involves so many different ways of finding out new things.
"My supervisors are both fantastic female scientists and they’ve been such excellent role models in showing me that it’s possible to be in science leadership roles and also enjoy your family and home life.
"As a PhD student, I’m at the start of my career, so it’s great to learn from people who have been through it all and illustrate what’s possible as a scientist and how to get there."
Professor Pennie Lindeque is PML's Head of Science for Marine Ecology and Biodiversity:
"Marine science is a hugely rewarding, ever-changing and fascinating career in which you can make a real impact, answering the questions you feel are most important. It's encouraging that we're seeing more female role models in science and in leadership roles.
"One aspect of that has been breaking down out-of-date barriers such as the notion that having a family and having an ambitious career are incompatible. It's really important we continue to share stories of how women, and men, are building highly successful careers without sacrificing a healthy work/life balance.
"When I started out in my career, there was a lack of female role models in science but that has changed for the better in recent years. With the support of female colleagues I realised that we needed to push the boundaries and not accept a glass ceiling, or indeed impose one on ourselves."
Dr Karen Tait is a Senior Scientist and Microbiologist. She is also the co-chair of PML's Athena Swan committee:
"Having been at PML for 20 years, I feel like I've seen real progress both here and in the wider scientific community. Addressing gender discrimination in STEM is an ongoing issue and I really feel one of the most powerful things we can do is help people to call it out when they see it.
"Using the Athena Swan framework has given us a great springboard for looking at where we can continue to develop. As scientists, data is our day job, so it made a lot of sense for us to carry out important data gathering as part of this, going into depth on where we're doing well and where there are still challenges.
"I think one of our biggest successes at PML has been seeing women here feeling much more confident in standing up for their own careers, recognising their achievements and putting themselves forward for promotions and opportunities."
Dr Marie-Fanny Racault is an Earth Observation Scientist, focusing on the study of climate impact on marine ecosystem resources and the oceanic carbon cycle. She is part of the team working on the third chapter (Ocean and coastal ecosystems and their services) of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report:
"One aspect that’s important to remember is that, if we’re not working to bring up the number of women in science, then we’re missing out on 50% of the talent and potential. Science and progress and discovery are missing out.
"I think it is changing, we are seeing more and more opportunities. In projects I am involved in, I can see a real effort to achieve a balance of genders, which is very positive and very motivating for me as a scientist.
"I’m really pleased to be working in a team with a good gender balance for the IPCC report oceans chapter. It’s led to us having a really great group dynamic, which will hopefully lead us to a strong assessment of climate change impacts in our work together."
Julia Davy is PML's Head of Human Resources and part of the Senior Management Team:
"I am proud to be part of an organisation committed to gender equality, striving to create an inclusive environment where women are enable to achieve their full potential.
"PML has so many amazingly talented female scientists dedicated not only to their science, but also finding time to help shape future pathways, providing visible female role models and mentoring for aspiring young scientists at the start of their careers.
"Whilst there is still some way to go to fulfil our aspirations, it’s good to take time to reflect on and celebrate our success stories."