This Saturday the 8th March is International Women’s Day, championing equality for women from all walks of life. All of the Royal Society journals have a lot of fantastic female role models and, to celebrate International Women’s Day, we asked them to tell us a little bit about their work and how they got to where they are today.
In the first part of this two part blog we have profiles from Jennifer Clack, Nadia Aubin-Horth, Deborah Gordon, Jana Vamosi, Rebecca Safran, Felisa Smith, Anne Weil, Cathrine Pfister and Terrie Williams. We hope you find them as inspirational as we do!
Jennifer Clack – University of Cambridge Associate Editor, Biology Letters
Following a life-long interest in natural sciences, my BSc degree was taken at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in England. After qualifying in Museum Studies at the University of Leicester I worked for seven years in Birmingham City Museums and Art Gallery. Back at Newcastle upon Tyne, I worked for a PhD in vertebrate palaeontology. I then gained the position of Assistant Curator in the University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge, UK. Our expedition to East Greenland found remains of the Devonian tetrapods Acanthostega and Ichthyostega. The extraordinary finding of polydactyly in these taxa changed thinking on the ‘fish-tetrapod’ transition. I have subsequently worked on Devonain and Early Carboniferous tetrapods and their ‘fish’ relatives for most of my career. In 2006 I was promoted to Professor. I was awarded the Daniel Giraud Elliot medal by the National Academy of Sciences in the USA (2008), elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society (2009), elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2011), awarded the T. Neville George medal by the University of Glasgow and an honorary doctorate by the University of Chicago (2013), and elected as a Foreign Member of the Swedish Royal Academy of Science (2014). I currently work on new discoveries of earliest Carboniferous tetrapods and other vertebrate fossils, found in the UK and helping understand the key period in evolution when tetrapods developed terrestrial capabilities.
Nadia Aubin-Horth – Université Laval Associate Editor, Proceedings B
My academic career spans several fields of biology, making me a true hybrid. During my undergraduate studies in Biology at Université de Montréal, Canada, I specialised in Ecology and did my undergraduate thesis in Fish Ecology. Working with graduate students during the summer convinced me to do a master’s thesis in Aquatic ecology, studying bioenergetics in wild populations of yellow perch. I did a PhD in Biology at Université Laval, Canada. I studied the evolution of alternative reproductive tactics in Atlantic salmon using and empirical approach to study the causes and consequences of the plastic development of sneaker males in a population. This project sparked my interest for phenotypic plasticity and its evolution. I then became a postdoctoral fellow at the Bauer Center for Genomics Research at Harvard University, USA (now called the FAS Center for Systems Biology). I worked on the molecular mechanisms implicated in behaviour variation, using genomics methods to study model species in the field of ecology and evolution (salmon and African cichlids), an approach now known as “Ecological genomics”. I became an assistant professor at Université de Montréal in 2006 and, since 2009, I am an associate professor in the Biology Department and the Institute of Integrative and Systems Biology at Université Laval. In my laboratory, we study behaviour variation in vertebrates using an integrative biology approach that combines information on differences at the genetic, molecular, hormonal, physiological, morphological and behavioural levels between individuals, populations, or species. We have a strong interest for phenotypic plasticity, along with the effects of genetic variation. Our model system is the threespine stickleback Gasterosteus aculeatus, a small fish studied in behavioural biology, which can be kept easily in the lab and that has become a supermodel in ecological genomics. I am a co-organizer of the Symposium for Women Entering Ecology and Evolution Today (SWEEET) and I also a volunteer for the “Girls and Science: an electrifying duo” day which aims to show Quebec high school girls all the different career avenues connected to science and engineering through hands-on activities and mentoring by female scientists.
Deborah Gordon- Stanford University Associate Editor, Proceedings B
I went to graduate school to study ecology and animal behavior because I was looking for something to do that would involve being outside and not having to wear uncomfortable shoes. Fortunately, it turns out that I really like doing research. I study how ant colonies operate without central control, and how interaction networks regulate colony behavior. My lab’s research on the collective organization of ant colonies includes studies of the long-term demography and behavior of harvester ant colonies in Arizona; the factors that determine the spread of the invasive Argentine ant in northern California; and the ecology of arboreal ants and ant-plant mutualisms in tropical forests in Central America. As I have learned more about how different species use interactions in different environments, I have become increasingly interested in analogies between ant colonies and other distributed networks such as brains and engineered data systems. I’ve written two books, Ants at Work (2000) and Ant Encounters:Interaction Networks and Colony Behavior (2010), and I’m working on a third.
Jana Vamosi – University of Calgory Associate Editor, Proceedings B
I got into a science career not only because I enjoy the investigative process, but also because I relish the freedom to invent my own questions. My research bridges macroevolution, macroecology, community ecology, and conservation biology of plants and pollinators. The loss of ecosystem services with declines in species diversity suggests that unique traits of clades contribute to ecosystem functioning, but we have yet to identify the most important functional traits. My research focuses on the roles of floral traits, climate, and the spatial heterogeneity of coflowering neighbors on speciation and extinction in plants, as well as the consequences of loss of species, phylogenetic, and functional diversity. While I keep a central focus on how pollinator associations influence diversity in flowering plants, the role of geography is emerging as a paramount driver as well. To that end, I am currently involved in investigating the role of topographical heterogeneity in driving pollinator specialization and high speciation rates in mountainous areas. Mountainous areas are also poised to experience some of the most dramatic shifts in climate over the next century and my research will help predict what lineages are to suffer the greatest losses in diversity, as well as gain insight into what degree we are situated to experience acceleration of global extinction rates.
Rebecca Safran – University of Colorado Associate Editor, Proceedings B
In 2005, I received my PhD from Cornell University in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology 2005. After a postdoctoral fellowship at Princeton University, I joined the faculty of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado where I have since resided. My research group focuses on the evolution of species from behavioral and genetic perspectives. Specifically, our group approaches questions related to trait evolution and divergence by applying multiple physiological, behavioral, and genetic perspectives to data collected from field experiments and broad sampling schemes using widespread and phenotypically variable populations of barn swallows. Although the representation of women in my field of study is better than other areas of science, there is still an important gap. I am therefore particularly honored to mentor students as they navigate their choice of career in ways that help them fulfill their personal goals. It is important to convey that choosing a career in academia does not preclude a rich life outside of the lab.
Felisa Smith – University of New Mexico Associate Editor, Proceedings B
I grew up in Laguna Beach in sunny southern California, where I was distinctive for being the only one in class when the surf was up. From this nerdy and not so auspicious beginning, I went on to earn my bachelors degree in Biology from the University of California at San Diego in 1980. A short stint of teaching high school science and math to overactive teenagers convinced me that this traditional career path was not for me. Accordingly, I went on to graduate school earning a PhD from the department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UC Irvine in 1992. I am now a full professor at the University of New Mexico. Along the way, I developed an interest in body size. My current projects all focus on the central issue of why things are the size they are, how they got to be this size, and what the evolutionary and ecological consequences are of being a certain size. To examine this, I conduct modern field studies examining rodent life history and physiological tradeoffs in one of the most stressful environments on Earth, Death Valley; paleoecological studies of the response of rodents to climate change over the late Quaternary using packrat middens; and database driven analysis of the large-scale macroevolutionary patterns of mammalian body size across the Cenozoic.
Anne Weil – Oklahoma State University Associate Editor, Proceedings B
I am a vertebrate paleontologist. I work mostly on early mammals, mostly in the Late Cretaceous and Paleocene, and mostly in North America. I do a lot of field work as a part of my research.
Unlike many vertebrate paleontologists, I was not obsessed with dinosaurs throughout my childhood, but was more interested in rocks. In college, I majored in English with a specialization in Creative Writing, but I took all my elective courses in Geology, and at the end of my Senior year realized that I wished to continue in that field. I was advised that I should go into Paleontology because it was not quantitative. This turned out to be perfect advice, although for the wrong reason. As any paleontologist could have told me, Paleontology has a large quantitative element – which I don’t struggle with. Since then I have been fortunate to have great mentors – all male – who never believed there was anything I couldn’t learn or do. I hold an M.A. in Geological Sciences and a Ph.D. in Integrative Biology.
My current research is on the phylogeny and biogeography of multituberculate mammals, especially relating to terrestrial recovery from the end-Cretaceous mass extinction event. Multituberculates lived throughout Laurasia in the Late Cretaceous, and were very diverse. They underwent significant lineage extinction at the end of the Cretaceous, but rediversified rapidly, reaching their peak of known species diversity in the Paleocene. I am particularly interested in how biogeographic variation in the Late Cretaceous might have contributed to recovery of these mammals and of terrestrial ecosystems as a whole after Earth’s last great mass extinction event.
Catherine Pfister – University of Chicago Associate Editor, Proceedings B
I am a marine ecologist with a special interest in how populations of interacting species determine the patterns that we see in the coastal ocean. My research has always reflected an interest in informing the harvest of marine species as well as our prognosis for marine ecosystems in the future. My interests grew out of a combined interest in environmental problem solving and a love of aquatic environments. I have a particular affinity for field work and have been fortunate to work in a number of interesting natural areas, including the rocky shores of the US west coast. Through the years, I have incorporated a number of methodologies in my work, such as genomics, biogeochemistry and field experimentation. I enjoy working with students and thinking about the next research project. I also enjoy being an editor because it allows me to read a diverse set of research activities.
Terrie Williams – University of Chicago Associate Editor, Proceedings B
I am a Comparative Wildlife Physiologist for the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California- Santa Cruz. I received a Ph.D. in Environmental and Exercise Physiology from Rutgers University in 1981, and am now the Director of the Center for Marine Mammal Research and Conservation at UCSC. I am the academic granddaughter of the great Comparative Physiologist George Bartholomew through Timothy Casey. My research and writing have taken me to some of the most remote locations of the world. Recent expeditions have included studying sea otters, Steller sea lions and killer whales in Alaska, dolphins in the Bahamas, elephants and cheetahs in Africa, and Weddell seals in the Antarctic. In 1989 I was the Director of the Valdez Sea Otter Rescue Center where I organized the research and rehabilitation of marine mammals contaminated in the oil spill.
For the past 25 years my research laboratory has investigated the physiology of large mammalian predators. Specifically, we are trying to understand “how animals survive” in a world that is constantly changing. Primary areas of study include 1) the energetics and biomechanics of swimming, running and diving, 2) thermoregulation during exercise, and 3) the effects of age and reproductive status on physiological limitations. By examining the functional relationships between animals and their environment, we hope to understand the ecological significance of a species and the physiological adaptive changes that may be necessary for its survival.
My publication credits include over 100 scientific articles on the exercise and performance capabilities of a wide variety of mammals. I have also written several books including a recent book for the public, “The Odyssey of KP2” (Penguin Press) detailing her efforts to save the endangered Hawaiian monk seal.
Note from the Ed: Part two of this blog is now available here.