Member Spotlight: Sophia
Each month, we invite DBC members with a connection to our theme to share their personal experiences with us. Interested in sharing your story with the DBC community? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please introduce yourself to the DBC members.
Hi fellow book nerds! My name is Sophia, and I’m currently a graduate student pursuing my master’s degree in Earth Science at the University of Toronto. My research is focused on examining the role of groundwater in climate modelling and archaeological reconstructions. I’m also an educator at our local conservation authority, where I lead elementary school student and new immigrant groups through awesome outdoor environmental education programs. In my free time I love reading (obviously), knitting, hiking, and spending time with my two adorable cats.
Why is this month’s topic, women in science, near and dear to your heart?
It is so, so important to engage women and young girls in and expose them to the various STEM fields and the wonder that is science. Although the participation of women in STEM is growing, I really believe a lot more needs to be done. Discrimination and bias plague academia, scientific professions, and our culture as a whole. I often wonder how many technological advancements and scientific discoveries we haven’t yet stumbled upon because 50% of the population faces discriminatory barriers and pressure that prevents them from pursuing or excelling in STEM to the same degree as men.
The more we can eliminate these barriers and encourage women to pursue STEM despite prejudices against them, I believe our society will flourish and advance and grow. Science is one of the keys to a more advanced, inclusive, and healthy society and the inclusion and welcoming of women in science will get us to achieve these goals more quickly and wholesomely.
How did you discover your passion for geoscience?
I grew up in rural Ontario surrounded by forests, farms, and provincial parks. Southern Ontario is full of glacier-created landforms and crazy diverse weather, and my parents always encouraged me to explore the outdoors and always ask questions. I think growing up in this environment really sparked my interest in the natural world. As a kid and a teenager I was obsessed with the weather – I would keep temperature and precipitation journals, watch the weather channel religiously, and drive down country roads with my mom in the summer chasing storms by following radar on my phone. What really sealed the deal for me was taking a 4-day train ride from Vancouver to Toronto when I was 17. Canada has such diverse landscapes and climates – in those four days I saw temperate rainforest, desert, mountains, plains, boreal forest, swampland and the expansive Canadian Shield. I was sold. I HAD to learn more about what makes our planet so beautiful and unique.
Did you have a favorite book that featured women (or girls) and science while growing up? Is there one you've read in your adulthood that you love?
No, I didn’t have one when I was a kid – and reflecting on this I am astonished that I didn’t. I remember walking to the public library with my first grade class every other Friday and getting lost in books about wildlife, forests and weather, but I can’t recall any book featuring female scientists. I wonder how I would have felt if I did come across such a book at a young age.
I did pick up and devour Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl when it first came out a couple of years ago. I love this book. Hope has travelled an incredible path in the field of geoscience and it was so inspiring to me. At the time I was just finishing my undergrad in physical geography and this book gave me such a motivational boost to continue learning and asking questions.
Do you find you have faced obstacles in your field because of your gender?
I started encountering and recognizing discrimination against women in science as I was completing my undergrad. All of these experiences were propagated by men, and a lot of them made me do a double-take at what I was hearing. I’ve been asked to my face if I was sexually licentious outside of school (said much more derogatorily) and I’ve been told not to do certain tasks in my lab because they were ‘men’s work’. While using an auger to collect a tree core samples for a research project, one of my supervisors told our group with a laugh: “look who wants a photo op!”. These comments stuck with me, angered me, and made me want to push for equality in science even more. I wonder if my peers know that they are perpetuating discrimination against women in science, or if this behaviour is so normalized that they aren’t aware of the damage that they’re contributing to.
Earth Science (especially geology) is historically a very male-dominated field. A female scientist called Marie Tharpe discovered the first evidence of plate tectonics and continental drift in the 1950s, but her theory was laughed off by her male colleagues. Later, her findings were published by her male colleagues and her name was omitted from all major papers produced by her group. This is infuriating to me, but I have hope. Today more than half of my current lab group is female and I’m very hopeful that we’ll see a much-needed shift in perspective in the future.
Are there any additional resources (books, articles, podcasts) about women in science that you would recommend to our readers?
I would definitely start with this month’s DBC adult pick: Lab Girl by Hope Jahren. This is one of my favourite books and was extremely inspiring to me as an aspiring geoscientist. What I love about this book is that Hope takes us through her journey of discovering and pursuing her passion for the natural world. She recounts how she changed fields from medicine to geoscience in her youth, the hardships and rewards of giving your life to research, the lifelong friends that she’s made in her field, and she even touches upon struggling with mental health. I love that this isn’t just a book about science, but it’s a book about navigating academia, the scientific world, and life in the pursuit of following your passion. It offers a wholly female perspective while showing readers that gender and/or sex just doesn’t matter in the pursuit of scientific knowledge. Science is science, and science should be accessible to everyone. And whether your knowledge of science is little or large, Hope’s book is accessible to and has a message for everyone.
Do you have any advice for young women looking to pursue a career in geoscience?
Find what you’re passionate about: the thing that makes you excited to get up in the morning, that makes you ask question after question, and that makes it difficult to fall asleep sometimes. Follow that passion. Find others who have the same passion as you and ask even more questions. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t find answers or if you find things difficult sometimes; the beauty of science is that there is always something waiting to be discovered. Stand up for your right to pursue science, and know that there are many women in science who have persevered and excelled and have made great leaps in scientific advancement despite hardships and discrimination. Look after your mental health (this is important in any field!) and know that you are not alone in following your passion for science. Read, ask even more questions, and get outside and think of how the world is so much bigger than we give it credit for!
Is there anything else you’d like our members to know?
The beauty of science is that it does not discriminate. The power of science is that it unlocks a world that defies discrimination and relishes accessibility. You do not need to be a scientist to understand this beauty and this power and to be passionate about topics that range from medicine to chemistry to space and back! Even if you aren’t a scientist, asking questions and using evidence to back up facts and opinions is a skill that is important for everyone to learn. What I love most about science is that it has showed me a world that is so much bigger and greater than myself – it is a humbling and awe-inspiring life to lead.