DFO sci­en­tists tell girls to fol­low their dreams

Depart­ment high­lights fe­male re­searchers on In­ter­na­tional Day of Women and Girls in Science

The Labradorian - - EDITORIAL - BY LOUIS POWER

Marine bi­ol­o­gist Vonda Ware­ham still re­mem­bers when her science teacher told her in Grade 10, “science is not for you.”

But those dis­cour­ag­ing words never stopped her from fol­low­ing her pas­sion. A few decades later, Ware­ham’s re­search on corals and sponges is an im­por­tant part of the Depart­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans Canada’s man­date to pro­tect and man­age ocean ecosys­tems.

“I feel like track­ing him down and show­ing him my mas­ter’s cer­tifi­cate, and say­ing, ‘ It wasn’t me. It was you all along,’” said Ware­ham, who has been with DFO for 12 years.

Though Ware­ham found science in­tim­i­dat­ing back in Bish­ops Col­lege in the 1980s, she al­ways had a pas­sion for con­ser­va­tion — “when re­cy­cling wasn’t cool, and no one cared about sav­ing the whales or sav­ing the birds, and I wanted to save ev­ery­thing.”

She moved to Bri­tish Columbia, where she felt con­ser­va­tion was more of a pri­or­ity, and even­tu­ally went back to school as a ma­ture stu­dent. Af­ter get­ting her bach­e­lor of science de­gree, she came back to New­found­land to work on her mas­ter’s de­gree in en­vi­ron­men­tal science.

Now, some of her work is on dis­play at the GEO Cen­tre in a pop­u­lar ex­hibit of coral and sponge sam­ples called “Gar­dens of the Deep.” “It shows some of the nicer spec­i­mens that we’ve col­lected over the years, and it talks about where they’re found and mim­ics the en­vi­ron­ment they would be found in and the com­mu­ni­ties they would cre­ate. It’s a mix­ture of video, phys­i­cal sam­ples, some text just to pro­mote and ed­u­cate peo­ple about corals and the im­por­tance of con­serv­ing and pro­tect­ing them,” she said.

Ware­ham said they’re now us­ing data to high­light im­por­tant ar­eas in the North­west At­lantic Ocean with high con­cen­tra­tions of corals and sponges — ar­eas they hope can be pro­tected ei­ther by fish­ery clo­sures or other con­ser­va­tion reg­u­la­tions.

High­light­ing women in science

Ware­ham is one of sev­eral of DFO’s fe­male sci­en­tists the depart­ment is proudly fea­tur­ing to co­in­cide with the United Na­tions In­ter­na­tional Day of Women and Girls in Science.

The UN says: “Un­for­tu­nately, women and girls con­tin­ued to be ex­cluded from par­tic­i­pat­ing fully in science.”

Ware­ham said she thinks things are chang­ing, but she can see where the state­ment orig­i­nates. She said girls tend to be told they’re bet­ter at lan­guages and art, while boys are said to be bet­ter at science and math.

“I have a daugh­ter who’s 11 years old, and she keeps say- ing that ‘I’m never go­ing to be good at math,’ or ‘ I don’t like science. I’m not very good at it.’ And she’s bet­ter in French and English than she is in these other sub­jects. And it just makes me mad that that stigma starts at a very

young age. And I don’t even know where she got it from, but I‘ve been try­ing to ex­plain to her the im­por­tance of sci-

“I have a daugh­ter who’s 11 years old, and she keeps say­ing that ‘I’m never go­ing to be good at math,’ or ‘I don’t like science. I’m not very good at it.’ And she’s bet­ter in French and English than she is in these other sub­jects. And it just makes me mad that that stigma starts at a very young age. Marine bi­ol­o­gist Vonda Ware­ham

ence and math and all sub­jects,” she said. A teacher’s role Cyn­thia McKen­zie, a fel­low re­search sci­en­tist with DFO, said teach­ers can play a piv­otal role in a per­son’s ca­reer path.

“A lot of it de­pends on who wants to spend the time pro­mot­ing science in the class­room, and tak­ing the time for it or get­ting out of the class­room and into the field. I think that’s a key point — what is the teacher pro­mot­ing, and how are they do­ing it?” she said.

The Texas-born re­searcher said she had some ex­cel­lent teach­ers who re­ally pro­moted science — not to men­tion a sci­en­tist fa­ther.

“I was five- years- old when he weighed one of my hairs on his scale, and it was fas­ci­nat­ing to me,” she said.

“So even from an early, early age, I was fas­ci­nated with science, and prob­a­bly a geek in the most clas­sic sense.

We would dis­sect frogs in science class, and I would have to take one home so I could dis­sect an­other one at home. (I was) pres­i­dent of the science club and the chess club and the math club, and ev­ery­thing like that.”

Af­ter a spell at the Ocean Sci­ences Cen­tre, McKen­zie moved to DFO, where she’s been fo­cus­ing on in­va­sive species for the past 15 years. She’s prob­a­bly best known for her work with green crab, which con­tinue their in­va­sion of New­found­land waters.

“I work with fish har­vesters and other groups, try­ing to fig­ure out what they’re do­ing, what im­pact they’re hav­ing on the en­vi­ron­ment, what kind of re­sponse we could have that would be ef­fec­tive,” she said, adding right now they’re fo­cus­ing on For­tune Bay.

“We are con­cerned about how they may im­pact in the fu­ture the lob­ster there. We’re work­ing with a lot of the lob­ster har­vesters in that area to try to mit­i­gate them and trap them be­fore they get too much of a foothold and have an im­pact on ei­ther the habitat or the lob­ster fish­ery.”

As they con­tinue their work, both McKen­zie and Ware­ham en­cour­age girls with an in­ter­est in science to fol­low their pas­sion, too.

“Science is a very ex­cit­ing field,” said Ware­ham. “I love my job, and it’s what drove me back to school. I wanted to be able to make a dif­fer­ence in what I do. I wanted to teach as many peo­ple what I know to help make this planet bet­ter. High school is im­por­tant, and school is im­por­tant, but it doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily dic­tate what you’re go­ing to do when you get out of high school.

“That would be my key mes­sage. You can do any­thing you put your mind to.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.