Celebrating International Day of Girls & Women in Science

Today is International Day of Women & Girls in Science – a day declared by the UN to bring attention to the fact that less than 30 percent of researchers worldwide are women. Biases and gender stereotypes are still steering many girls away from careers in science. We have many female scientists at NatureScot though, from graduate placements to unit heads. We asked them to tell you what inspires them and what they love about their jobs – and why you might want to consider a career in science yourself!

Jen is one of our area officers covering Caithness. To the right is an example of some of the seaducks she’s been surveying recently, eider ducks.

Jen Graham, Area officer in the Northern Isles & North Highland

I spent lots of my time as a child being dragged up munros, and I thought I’d never want to do work outside! But as time progressed, I grew fascinated by nature’s systems and the true variety of life both on a small scale and more globally. Ultimately, it was spending time in Scotland’s wild spaces which led me to pursue a career in environmental science.

I’ve recently finished working on a project investigating monitoring methods for Inshore Wintering Waterfowl – birds like eider, Slavonian grebe and long tailed ducks. This project allowed me to get out and talk to volunteers and survey waterfowl in the Moray Firth Special Protection Area. I developed a passion for ornithology through this work and enjoyed learning about seaduck ecology and behaviour, and being able to go out with volunteers and count the birds was an amazing opportunity.

I feel truly lucky to get to do work like this! You’re always learning and getting to experience nature first-hand, from counting flowers to encountering bats and hen harriers. It’s just so fascinating. In this role, you are always meeting people who are experts and people who know the environments they work in so well.

A short poem by Adrienne Rich reminds me that it is ordinary people who do good and important work to protect and look after our environment and it’s the day-to-day perseverance that matters.

My heart is moved by all I cannot save;
So much has been destroyed

I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,

With no extraordinary power,
Reconstitute the world.

Fairlie began working for NatureScot as a graduate placement.

Fairlie Kirkpatrick Baird, Geographic Systems Officer

I’ve been passionate about (and somewhat terrified by) the climate crisis since I first learned about it in school. After doing a degree in history, I decided I wanted to combine my interest in social science with my concern for the environment and pursue a career in conservation. I spent a summer up in the Flow Country doing practical conservation on the beautiful bog there, and then managed to do a masters in ecology before being lucky enough to join NatureScot as a graduate placement.

I spent the placement modelling likely changes to drought risk in Scotland due to climate change, the results of which are now being used to inform conservation strategies and target mitigation work to areas most at risk. It’s really rewarding to contribute actively to climate change resilience in Scotland, and to help fill a gap in our knowledge (unsurprisingly, not many people think about drought risk in Scotland!). I’m now part of NatureScot’s GIS team, which helps colleagues use geographic data to achieve NatureScot’s conservation goals. As part of that, it’s really interesting to see all the exciting projects going on throughout the organisation. With the severity of the climate and biodiversity emergencies, I’m glad to be working in a sector that’s trying to do something about it.

For more on Fairlie’s work on drought risk, see our recent news release.

Alison has worked in a number of different roles in NatureScot. To the right is an example of the type of sustainability projects she’s worked on.

Alison Shand, Supporting Good Development Administrator

I had the good fortune of growing up on the banks of Loch Lomond, spending a lot of time outdoors and developing a love of nature. Despite this, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I grew up. As my friends set out to pursue their chosen careers, I made a last-minute decision to study zoology. I’d enjoyed biology at high school and I liked animals. It was through studying subjects like ecology and evolutionary biology that I really came to love science, as it helped me understand the natural world around me, how it works and how it came to be. I became particularly interested in urban nature, and how some species have adapted to live alongside humans.

I went on to study sustainability and environmental studies for my Masters. This led to me working for NatureScot in a graduate placement with our Supporting Good Development team, researching Sustainable Drainage System (SuDS) ponds and the benefits they can provide to people and nature. From there, I’ve taken on roles in NatureScot’s Executive Office and then Communications, and now I’m again working in planning and development. I really enjoy being able to make use of what I learned at university, and to be part of NatureScot’s efforts to make Scotland’s future more sustainable.

I’ve never approached my career with much of a plan – I’m very much a generalist and have taken up different opportunities as they’ve arisen. From assisting with research on crypsis in moths, to visiting SuDS ponds all over Scotland, to organising Sharing Good Practice events, I’ve gained a lot of different experiences and been part of some really interesting work. Studying science has given me the tools, qualifications and inspiration I’ve needed to develop my career. Some people know exactly what they want to do when they leave school, but for those who don’t, like me at 17, I’d definitely recommend pursuing science – it opens up so many possibilities!

Katie helping to tag a common skate in Loch Sunart, part of the Sound of Jura Marine Protected Area.

Katie Gilham, Head of Marine Ecosystems

Some of us are born with a dash of saltwater in our blood! I always wanted to work with the sea, so after studying Oceanography and Marine Biology at university, I gained experience through volunteer work. This included surveying coral reefs in Belize and Honduras, and soon led to a job with NatureScot in Shetland, working on developing a management scheme for the Papa Stour Special Area of Conservation –  23 years ago now! From there, I became an area officer in Shetland for a few years, before moving to the mainland to join the Marine Ecosystems team.

I’m now part of a team working on selecting and managing Marine Protected Areas and Priority Marine Features. We also monitor, survey and advise on marine birds and habitats, and make marine data more accessible. Part of my role is to agree our priorities each year, review research project proposals developed by the team and help  secure the funding to ensure that projects can go ahead when necessary. This involves a lot of work with people from other organisations, as the majority of our research is delivered through partnerships with Marine Scotland, or through organisations that are part of the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology in Scotland (MASTS).

A big project over the last couple of years has been contributing to the Healthy and Biologically Diverse Seas section of Scotland’s Marine Assessment 2020. This is a statutory assessment to provide the evidence to underpin marine planning. As part of the steering group, I helped identify topics to be covered on marine habitats and species, and oversee completion of work with Marine Scotland colleagues on content relating to, for example, basking sharks, waterbirds and Priority Marine Features. In the coming weeks, SMA2020 will be used to inform a review of Scotland’s National Marine Plan.

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