Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Nisrine Machaka-Houri

 Dr. Nisrine Machaka-Houri
Dr. Machaka-Houri was born in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1976 . She is the third child of a family of four children. Her father got a B.S. in Civil Engineering from the University of Saint Joseph (USJ), which inspired her two brothers to pursue their bachelor’s in the same major. Her mother only finished the 9th grade, and her only sister finished the 12th grade. Dr. Machaka-Houri, did not decide to get a PhD until later in her life, after she got married to her beloved husband—Dr. Ahmad Houri. She was the first person to have a PhD degree in her family, which encouraged one of her brothers to get his PhD in his field.
After graduating from high school, Dr. Machaka-Houri applied to many universities. Unfortunately, she was not accepted into any of them. Or is it fortunately? After her wedding to Dr. Houri, a postdoc at Scripps Research Institute, San Diego, she began to pursue her undergraduate education in interior design at Design Institute of San Diego, a subject she was quite fascinated with. After having settled into their new life in the United States, Dr. Machaka-Houri and her husband began to find great joy in their discovery of the nature around them, wondering about its beauty, and capturing a plethora of pictures of a variety of flowers. Dr. Houri’s passion for photography as a hobby, stirred a passion for Dr. Machaka-Houri with experiences that she fondly refers to as “amusing” and “amazing”.
After year and a half, the couple returned to their home in Lebanon, where Dr. Machaka-Houri received her B.S. in interior design from the Lebanese American University (LAU), in 2001. But it was the memories of her discoveries of the flora and her curiosity for the variation in nature, that caused her to pursue the discovery of the plants and nature around her in Lebanon. At the initial stages of her exploration of nature, there was only one floral guide available in Lebanon that only classified about 165 flowers.  they encountered a great difficulty in their attempts to catalogue and discern the different flora around them, causing them to begin their own field guide and classification of the diversity in plant life around them.  Thus they created their own floral field guide, based on their collection of pictures and particular attention to detail. And within a short amount of time, Ahmad and Nisrine published the first volume of the Photographic Guide to Wild Flowers of Lebanon in 2001, that consisted of images and details about 240 species of plants. 
Photographic guide to wild flowers of Lebanon – Volume (1)

Example of the floral classification in the Photographic guide to wild flowers of Lebanon book
Having published their book, and with a deeply rooted passion for nature, Dr. Machaka-Houri received her postgraduate diploma in Biodiversity Conservation and Management in 2006 from the University of London. The journey to her professional certification in the field of botanical studies and biodiversity, was marked by her determination to succeed and learn even if it required great lengths and dedication through long-distance learning. Two years later, in 2008, Ahmad and Nisrine published the second volume of the Photographic Guide to Wild Flowers of Lebanon, that classified additional 400 species. However, even with two major publications, Dr. Machaka-Houri received a lot of underestimation from her peers, who judged her place in academia due to her contribution to the field guides with a mere undergraduate degree. And so in order to validate her place in academia, she decided to continue her education and get a PhD, becoming one of the most accomplished women in ecology by 2013. Soon after, in 2014 she went back to USA with her husband and three beautiful children, to continue her postdoctoral education with an esteemed fellowship at the department of Plant and Microbial Biology at University of California, Berkeley. 

Photographic guide to wild flowers of Lebanon – Volume (2)

Dr. Machaka-Houri has continued contributing to the scientific field through her published works, books, presentations, conferences, and continued research in biodiversity. Moreover, she was as a coordinator for developing an ecotourism website for the Green-Line Organization, where she personally worked on the historic sites and wild flower sections in Lebanon. She also enjoys volunteering at Ibad Al Rahman Organization to sponsor, the disadvantaged students in Lebanon. With her contributions to science and society she was awarded the “Women in Science Hall of Fame - 2015” award—program initiated by the U.S. Department of State. In 2015 she was selected to participate in the “Women's Innovations in Science Entrepreneurship (WISE)” program, to be conducted April 11-29, 2016 in the US.
Dr. Nisrine Machaka-Houri and her family

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Dr. Bissett - the newest CPEL PhD

Today was a stellar day for the Coastal Plant Ecology Lab! Spencer Bissett successfully defended his dissertation titled CONSEQUENCES OF VINE INFESTATION: LINKING ABIOTIC INFLUENCES AND BIOTIC INTERACTIONS TO SUCCESSIONAL AND STRUCTURAL CHANGES IN COASTAL COMMUNITIES. His research focused on coastal habitats which are inherently vulnerable to the effects of global change at the interface of marine and terrestrial systems. Barrier island systems in particular serve not only as protective buffers against storm events, but also as sentinel ecosystems for observation of the impacts of sea level rise, and of increasing storm frequency and intensity. In the mid-Atlantic region, shrub thickets of Morella species compose the dominant woody community. Spencer's objective was to investigate the distribution and community roles of vine species in mid-Atlantic barrier island woody communities. He quantified environmental variables at two barrier habitats with differing site management histories and corresponding topography, and found that abiotic factors affected distributions of woody species, which subsequently affected vine species distributions. Vines demonstrated a long-lasting effect of arresting or delaying succession, and are potentially responsible for the lack of redevelopment of mature maritime forest at these sites. At Hog Island, Virginia, remotely-sensed data were utilized to determine the three-dimensional structural effects of vine infiltration in woody canopies. Vines were found to reduce canopy height and depth, and increase density, short-term diversity, and light-intercepting biomass. Significant vine infiltration can accelerate senescence of shrub thickets, but often results in persistent tangled masses of vegetation which reduce recruitment of later-successional species. These effects may represent long-term, lasting impacts of vine establishment and expansion in these habitats, affecting community succession towards diverse and stable maritime forest, and significantly altering resource dynamics in these sensitive ecosystems.

Congratulations Dr. Bissett! Your achievement is well earned!

Spencer just moments after passing his defense. Somehow a Hawaiian shirt materialized out of nowhere.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Dr. Priya Davidar - pioneering female ecologist in India

By Kanchan Anand Joshi

Dr. Priya Davidar is one of the first women ecologists in India. She was born in 1952, and was the eldest amongst the children. She feels that she became an ecologist through fortunate set of circumstances. Her father was E.R.C. Davidar, a big game hunter who later gave up the gun and became a wildlife photographer and conservationist. Her father took her for fishing and trekking in wilderness areas, which gave her the spirit of adventure and curiosity about life around her.  It is perhaps not surprising that Dr. Davidar chose to become a field biologist. She earned her Ph.D. from the Bombay Natural History Society under the supervision of Dr. Salim Ali – ‘the bird man of India’. She personally feels that her advisor was gender blind and supported all his students.

She came to the US in 1981 for her post-doctoral studies and found she had a lot of catching up to do in terms of scientific and analytical skills.  Although most people were warm and friendly, race and gender were undercurrents that were difficult to ignore at times.  The support of many outstanding scientists in US helped her.  Despite her impressive field experience, Dr. Davidar remained unsure about the job prospects for an ecologist in India, so she completed her M.S. from Harvard school of Public Health and studied immune responses of rodents to the deer tick. But she soon realized that she was not interested in human related health diseases, and took the opportunity to return to India when she was offered a faculty position at the newly established Pondicherry University in 1987. Dr. E. O. Wilson has this to say about her decision to return to India:  "When she chose to return to India, I knew she had a remarkable opportunity to play a pioneering role in ecology and biogeography, which she has achieved”.

Coming back to India was an opportunity to do field work in remote areas, as well as a shock, due to the politics, mediocrity and often times brutality of academic life.  Caste, region and gender have overwhelming influence in professional life in India, she found.  My advice to researchers from disadvantaged backgrounds unwelcome in upper-caste networks is to find collaborators who are supportive to buffer the harshness," she says. "Being persistent and carrying on despite difficulties is important. What I found is, time is an important ally that leads to eventual success." She received hostility from male colleagues too. “They suggested that I get married and stay in the kitchen”. “I used to take it quite personally and suffered a lot. Now, I realize this only creates needless stress for oneself,” she says.

Overcoming all these obstacles, Dr. Davidar has held a post at Pondicherry University’s Salim Ali School of Ecology and Environmental Sciences since 1987, and carried out research in diverse fields such as pollination biology, island biogeography, species distribution patterns, and conservation biology. She has advised more than 30 MS students and 12 Ph.D.’s have been awarded under her guidance. She has more than 90 publications. Of late, there has been a shift in the focus of her research. She is actively working in the field of grass roots conservation and together  with her husband Jean-Philippe Puyravaud carry out research and training at the Sigur Nature Trust, a nonprofit nature oriented charitable trust. She feels that relationships are among the most important aspects of a career. Dr. Davidar’s father and Dr. Salim Ali were important early influences for her. Also her encounter with Jean-Philippe Puyravaud changed the course of her life. She married him and her career!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Silent no more –a story of life after gang rape

By Julie Zinnert

It was a Friday night, and I was staying the night at my friend’s house.  At some point (after her parents went to bed), she suggested we try her aunt’s vodka.  I never had a drink before in my life.  I do not know how much we had, but it was enough that I have only flashes of pictures from that night; the rest is a haze that I cannot seem to uncover.  I was gang raped by 4 older guys at the age of 13.  At the time I was dating a guy who showed up at my friend’s house with his brother and two friends.  What I remember from that night: laying on the bathroom floor with a guy on top of me – my head beside the toilet; laying on the dining room floor with another guy on top of me; my “boyfriend” slapping me and calling me a bitch as he left.  But it is the story of how my life unfolded from that night onward that has caused the most damage.

Ever since that summer night before 8th grade I crossed an invisible line.  I became different.  For the next 20 years, I viewed myself through the lens of my friend’s words as she told people the next day: “Julie had sex with 4 guys”.  Those words shaped me (and others) into believing it was a choice I had made, that it was my fault, I was to blame.  And nobody disagreed.  After that night I was called a slut, a whore, easy.  I was ostracized.  Everybody in my grade and many others knew.  And based on my southern Baptist upbringing, having sex with anyone was not something I was about to tell my family. I had committed one of the worst sins: unmarried, underage sex.  I only now wonder how teachers did not hear of this.  Or did they and just not know how to respond? 

After that night, many guys felt they had some sort of privilege to touch or harass me.  Two guys that were older and lived in the neighborhood would routinely touch and grab me as I was walking home.  A loud-mouthed guy in my grade would not leave me alone; he wanted to have sex with me.  I finally gave in to make him go away; it worked.  During the school year I was befriended by a good-looking, “popular” guy.  We talked on the phone about what happened and other things and he listened to me.  I started to feel like maybe I was not this horrible person who did such an awful thing.  He must have even felt some feeling of humanity towards me because he finally let me know that he started talking to me on a bet from someone else that he could have sex with me.  I was deeply hurt because he was the only person that I thought viewed the true me.  Perhaps he was not a bad guy for being honest, but that closed the only opportunity for understanding that I had for many years.  Afterwards, I retreated inward because all I could ever be in other people’s eyes was a slut.  I did not feel this way inside, but this was the message that I was told by everyone around me. 

The night of being gang raped is still a haze to me.  It is the events thereafter that have left the scars.  Our society and culture allowed me to be the one responsible for what happened. People’s reactions taught me that I was bad, I was to blame, I was responsible, I must have deserved it, I was a whore, I was devalued.  Everything bad fell to me.  There were no negative repercussions for the guys.  And I never questioned it because I didn’t know to.  How many women feel this way today?  It is still our culture to hear stories of rape and suggest that maybe a girl/woman deserved it because she was drunk or wearing something too slutty.  We question every aspect and detail and if there is one part that is told differently, we instantly claim that women must be making it up or telling lies.  The aftermath of my rape is a sign that we have a long way to go as a society in how we treat women who have been sexually abused.  In a recent blog post, I read that 22.5% of undergraduate women at the University of Michigan reported nonconsensual touching, kissing, or sexual penetration in the past year. 9.7% of all women reported nonconsensual sexual penetration.  And many of these women believe that they are at fault, that somehow they might have deserved this or at the least, caused it to happen. 

My story after that night is filled with a lot of bad choices, but many good ones, too. I ended up getting arrested in 9th grade for possession of LSD at school.  When my dad picked me up from school, I remember he held me and cried.  It is only one of two times I ever saw my dad cry.  But he didn’t know why his daughter started down this path.  He never found out until a few years ago.  None of my family did.  In 10th grade I became pregnant.  This was the first time I was scared out of my wits and told my parents that I was in trouble (although it was not well received as you can imagine).  I remember riding home on the bus as I was beginning to have a miscarriage.  By this point in my life I was pretty used to dealing with awful feelings and emotions in public.  I quickly learned how to put on my mask of happiness when inside I was destroyed.  Later I began to see it as a symbolic cleansing of body.

I wonder what that night was like from the guys’ perspective.  How did they all watch what was happening and not think it was wrong?  Did anyone feel that it was wrong? Or was I just this piece of flesh to give each of them a notch on their belt? Was this a bonding experience for brothers? I rarely saw the guys again since they were in high school (while I was in middle school).  By the time I was in high school I started down another path of drugs that ended with me attending a different school and less chance of running into them.  I did see a couple of the guys on occasion and I remember nothing but looks of contempt.  I was a whore and deserved everything that happened.  Sometime during my high school years, the two brothers committed suicide (at different times).  I remember when the first brother killed himself, a good friend of mine was very sad.  I could not fathom how she could be friends with a person who had done such an awful thing to me.  I know now that in her eyes, I was at fault.  I wonder now if she still feels that way.  I wonder if having two little girls makes her view things differently. When I learned about both brothers killing themselves, I felt a small feeling of justice.  At least there were two less rapists in this world.

As I write these words, I feel this strange sort of detachment from myself; this couldn’t possibly have happened to me.  But it did.  I was a child living in suburbia, going to church, getting good grades, and these things aren’t supposed to happen.  I am sharing my story to tell everybody that rape is never the victim’s fault; our bodies belong only to us and to take without permission is a violation of our most basic rights.  I want to tell parents that this can happen to their daughters and sons and the only way to stop it is to educate and not avoid it because it feels uncomfortable.  I want to tell friends and family that when someone’s behavior changes so dramatically, it is a sign of serious hurt or damage – don’t place blame and don’t ignore the signs – offer love.  But mostly I want other victims to know that they have been only momentarily devalued – that it is not a reflection of you at all.  It is scary to accept being a victim, but once you can accept it, you become a survivor.  It is okay to let it be someone else’s fault.  We do not bear the burden of someone else’s actions.  It is a very scary, lonely, isolated feeling.  You question how you could have done things differently, but the truth is, you did nothing wrong.  When I was finally told by my now husband that it was not my fault, it took me several years to believe those words.

By speaking out, I release myself from the wounds that were created by the actions of those 4 guys many years ago.  Today I am a successful female scientist in plant ecology that has risen past the beliefs society tried to impose on me.  I have freed myself from the people that told me I was nothing.  I don’t need to prove myself to anyone.  I know now that I was raped by 4 guys.  They committed a terrible, atrocious act.  I lived too many years not knowing that it wasn’t my fault.  I no longer need to accept responsibility.  By speaking out, I am crossing another invisible line. People now know who I am.  At times, it feels scarier than accepting the blame and believing it was my fault.  I have allowed myself to be a victim.  Today I am more than a survivor.  I am true to myself and I know that I can achieve anything.
Me at the age of 13 – a few months before crossing the invisible line.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Lucy Emma Braun

By Ashley Moulton
Emma Lucy Braun is best known for her pioneering work in many fields including plant & forest ecology, vascular plant taxonomy, and plant geography. She was born in 1889 in Ohio and quickly developed a curiosity of nature during family trips to neighboring woods with her sister Annette Braun. Later she received her B.A. and Masters at the University of Cincinnati which helped further her early interest in plant geography and distributions. She then went to get her PhD in Botany in 1914. Her sister Annette was the first female PhD recipient at University of Cincinnati and studied entomology and she was the second.

Following her doctorate studies she became employed for the university. During this time she went on many road trips all over the country with her sister in their Model T. Ford. Together they explored many remote areas together and made friends with moonshiners. During their trips, Lucy made observations on the vegetation and prepared herbarium samples while her sister Annette studied moths. She took numerous photos during her travel, which she used later for teaching classes as a professor at the University of Cincinnati.


Over the next 31 years she ascended up the ranks from an Assistant in Botany to Professor of Plant Ecology at the University of Cincinnati. During her time as a professor she had 13 Master students and one PhD student, 9 of which were females which was highly unusual at this period of time for woman professors. Lucy’s focus on graduate mentoring and publishing her research made her rather unique in comparison to her contemporaries who at this time often focused solely on teaching. 

Lucy had an early retirement from teaching in 1948 at age 59, which allowed her conduct more specialized research. In total she wrote 4 books as well as 180 articles that were published in over twenty journals. Most notably was her book, Deciduous Forests of Eastern North America, published in 1950 which was a huge success and went out of print numerous times. This book was a culmination of her 25 years of fieldwork and over 65,000 miles of traveling with her sister. The book itself describes in detail the plants of deciduous forests and their evolution since the most recent ice age to the middle of the 20th century. Also in 1950 Lucy was elected the first female president of the Ecological Society of America.


She made several floristic contributions including organizing the Ohio Flora Committee, within the Ohio Academy of Science which lead to the publication of “the Woody Plants of Ohio (1961)” and “The monocotyledoneae of Ohio (1967)”. Her published articles comparing her floristic studies in Ohio to a previous flora notes from hundreds of years prior served as a model for comparing change over time in flora now known as longitudinal studies. Also during her time she fought to preserve over 10,000 acres of natural areas and set up nature reserves, particularly in her home state. She also collected an Extensive herbarium of nearly 12,000 species that now resides in the National Museum in Washington, D.C. She received numerous awards and honors before her death in 1971 at age of 82. Her strong willed and forceful personality was noted by many as one of her greatest strengths as well as the inseparable relationship she had with her sister Annette.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Assistant professor to bestselling author: Diana Gabaldon

By Lindsay Miles
Dr. Diana Gabaldon has not had the typical career of a woman in science. She started her career as an ecologist, earning a BS, MS, and PhD in biological sciences with a broad interest in ecology. She had the standard academia track, 2 post-docs followed by an associate professor position at Arizona State University, teaching environmental science.

While at ASU, she saw a need for computation in biology, so she decided to fill the need herself. She became an expert in science computing and founded Science Software Quarterly. During this time, she was writing manuals and tutorials in plain text, quite uncommon for computing and software manuals, however, this made the computer software broadly accessible to more than just computer science professionals.

 While still teaching at ASU and writing computer manuals, she decided to learn how to write a novel just for fun. Given her background in research and her already proven ability to learn new skills when a need arose, she was quite successful in this endeavor. She wrote the first novel in the Outlander series, a fiction novel that fits into historical fiction, fantasy, romance, and several other categories. This led to major success, as many readers of various genres could enjoy her writing.

Gabaldon quit the academia track of her career to pursue her writing ambitions. She wrote 8 novels in the Outlander series, as well as a number of other novels and short stories. She has since become a New York Times Best-Selling author and the Outlander series has been turned into a television series.

While Dr. Gabaldon did not continue her career as a woman in ecology, she has proven to be an inspiration nonetheless for women in science. She has had the drive and ambition to become an expert in more than one field. She was able to utilize the skills she learned as a scientist and apply them to be a success in other fields.
Diana Gabaldon and her Outlander series

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Bias against women and the Nobel Prize - Esther M. Zimmer Lederberg

By Joe Morina
After our discussion on Esther Lederberg, questions about women and the Nobel Prize were brought up.  Between 1901 and 2014 there were a total of 860 individuals who won the Nobel Prize/ Prize in Economic Sciences according to the Nobel Prize website. Out of 860 individuals, only 46 of them were women. Or, 95% of the awards have gone to men, while 5% have been awarded to women (Marie Curie won the award twice which means 47 total award to women, but only 46 individual women have been awarded).

Figure 1.  1901-2014 Nobel Prizes awarded to women.

Interestingly the Physics Nobel has not been awarded to women since 1963. Here is a list of women who would be prime candidates to win the Physics Nobel since. This list includes Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who discovered the pulsar star. However, she will never receive that Noble Prize because in 1974 her graduate advisor and a colleague received the Nobel Prize in Physics for her discovery. In fact, only two women have ever won the Physics Nobel Prize (Marie Curie and Maria Mayer). Fortunately, 12 women have won the prize in medicine or physiology, suggesting that these fields present less gender discrimination than the male dominate realm of physics. Finally, most of the Nobel Prizes awarded to women have been in literature or the Noble Peace prize. The disproportionately low amount of Nobel Prizes awarded to women coupled with the discipline distribution of these Prizes highlights the gender inequalities inherent in our academic/scientific global community.

Esther M. Zimmer Lederberg is another Nobel candidate that will never win the prize. However her life’s work is not lost to the annuals of time. Her pioneering discoveries are still serving us today, and her work on the fertility factor changed our fundamental view on bacterial replication as well as molecular genetics (and even won her husband the Nobel!).


Figure 2. Joshua receiving the Nobel that Esther helped him win

Up until one month before Josh Lederberg won the Nobel Prize, he did in fact credit Esther in his work. However, after winning the Nobel Prize, Joshua never credited, or even mentioned, Esther’s role in their scientific discoveries. It is hard to discern just how Esther viewed this injustice. Throughout her life Esther maintained that Joshua was a brilliant scientist.

It is clear that much of Esther’s work was accredited to her husband or other male scientists she was working with.  In class we discussed Joshua’s NLM website. The biography section mentions Esther once, 11 paragraphs in. In addition, it credits the research group with her discovery of lamda. Even the Max Plank institute wrongly credits Joshua with a role in Esther’s lamba discovery.

Sadly Esther story is not unique. Women before and after her have been overlooked or excluded from Nobel Prizes, with no other justification than the fact they are not men (Rosalind Franklin is a classic example). For a complete list of women who have received the Nobel Prize, click
here. The Esther M. Zimmer Lederberg website can be found here. You can also check out a short biography of her life, or the disrespectful guardian obituary that continues to perpetuate gender inequality.

The problems that Esther M. Lederberg had to surmount during the course of her career included attempted falsification of the historical record, misrepresentation, and theft of correspondence and other documentation, supported by gender discrimination.
                                                - Esther M. Zimmer Lederberg Trust

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

6 Truths Women in Ecology Face Today

By April Harris
Ecology is a vast and wondrous field that allows scientists many opportunities to explore and answer questions about the world around them. Having a career in this field can be as challenging as it is rewarding, especially for women in ecology.  Coming from a background of having many supportive and encouraging women ecologist around me, it never occurred to me that others may not have had such support. It also never occurred to me that as women ecologists, we still face hurdles that we must overcome today. To help me explore these issues, I enlisted the help of Judy Che-Castaldo a post-doc researcher at the National Socio-environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC). Together we sat down and talked about some issues women face and how might we best overcome them. What came from that conversation are 6 truths that women in ecology face:
1. Women may not be the best self-promoters.

While this certainly does not apply to all women, some may have trouble “selling” their research to others. Being bold, self-assured, hard hitting, and unapologetic are not character traits society typically associates with women. However, to me these are the exact traits that make some of the best self-promoters.  So how do we adopt these traits to enhance our skills? The simple answer is practice. The more you self-promote or “sell” your research, the better you become at doing so. Being able to successfully self-promote is vital in today’s world when important research is so easily overlooked, and landing jobs become more competitive than ever.

2. If your spouse is also in science, finding jobs together can be challenging.

Having a spouse in the same field as you can be great. They understand how research goes, and are there for you to bounce ideas off of. However, when it comes to finding jobs together in one locale, it can prove quite challenging, especially if you’re both in academia. Many couples have taken jobs in different cities so they can pursue their career, which forces them to live apart. Other couples have to “take turns” as to whose career comes first. Thankfully this is becoming better as some universities are now advertising couple’s positions. This allows both people in the relationship to pursue their career together!

3. As women in ecology, there is no “Right Time” to have children.

During your graduate years you are busy trying to finish your thesis or dissertation. When you are a post-doc your schedule may not be as flexible. All in all there is no right time to have children. You have to do what you deem is best for yourself and what you can handle. Do some research and see if your university offers graduate student leave for having children. Explore your university/job to see what support they offer parents. The presence or absence of these support systems may influence your decision on when to have children.

4. Having children can cut into your scientific productivity.

Having children is wonderful and family is the top priority in the world for most people, but it can cut into your scientific productivity. When a women gives birth to a child I wonder how many take the full 12 weeks of leave. I wonder how many women worry about the loss of scientific productivity during this time and how it will affect them professionally when that should be the last thing on their mind. When your child is sick and you can’t put them into daycare, typically it is the mom who has to stay home with them. Also, you may not get as many hours in the office compared to your pre-children days. There are daycare pickups you can’t miss, soccer or softball games that you want to attend, and having no food in the house is just no longer acceptable. While your spouse may help out with these things, a majority of the time these responsibilities are still shouldered by women. Many try to make up for lost hours in the wee hours of the night after the children are asleep but should they have to? Should society expect people with children to be just as productive as those who choose to remain childless? There is no right answer to this question in my opinion. Anyone could argue both sides and create a compelling argument.

5. Competing for jobs with people who don’t have children is tough.

This comes back around to the loss of productivity. How can you tell a company or university to choose a person who has a less productive CV (less grants, proposals or publications), than someone whose productivity is exceptionally high? This can be a real life problem that women who have children earlier in their career face. Shouldn’t we as women be able to translate having family into a set of desirable assets that make us more competitive in the eyes of a company or university? While I’m not sure how this would be accomplished it’s definitely something worth pondering.

6. There is still an “Old Guard” who have it out for women in ecology.

Hopefully you have never experienced these people but yes they do still exist. The “old guard” are those who still believe that women cannot have a successful career and a family as well. The only thing I have to say to these people is look around you. There are many women all over the globe who are managing a successful career and a thriving family. If you can’t be supportive of that please step to the side because we don’t have time for haters.


While I frame this post around women in ecology, truth be told these circumstances could just as easily be applied to other scientific disciplines as well as the men within them. This is why I feel it is important that we support one another in all things and make light of the issues once cast into the shadows. Women have come a long way in ecology, and with the continued help and support of male colleagues, universities and perspective employers, we will continue to make strides to break the glass ceiling. As a final note I would like to thank Judy Che-Castaldo for taking time out of her day to lend me the insight of someone who has been in this industry longer than I have. Her thoughts and insights were immensely helpful in formulating this blogpost.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Pioneering paleoecology - Dr. Kaye Reed

By Kelsey O'Neill

When we discussed female paleoanthropologists it was the same time a major science story was breaking. Homo naledi is a new species of hominin that has been broadcasted all over the popular press; one major spotlight is that a team of women scientists was conducting the excavation of the fossils from the cave site. While this is a good start for advancing women in the field of paleoanthropology, it is not enough. The Rising Star team of women scientists is only credited for excavating the site under the direction of Lee Berger, the program director. Women will only truly advance in the field when women mentor and oversee other women scientists in field research.


Figure 1: Bones of the Homo naledi fossils found in South Africa.


Figure 2: The women excavating team of Rising Star.

 One major woman paleoanthropologist who is actively educating, mentoring and overseeing a younger generation of women paleoanthropologists is Dr. Kaye Reed.  Dr. Reed earned her Ph.D. in Anthropology from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook in 1996, after having a nonlinear academic path. Unlike many other anthropology students attending university right after high school, Dr. Reed went to university for her undergraduate after having a child and a career. She was active in many field archaeology opportunities around the United Stated while completing a B.S. in Anthropology. It was during her time in graduate school that Kaye Reed began excavating at field site in South Africa, Argentina, and Ethiopia with several big name paleoanthropologists. Not only was Kaye Reed excavating sites, she was also the director of several field schools, where she would teach students excavation techniques.

Figure 3: Kaye Reed in the field at Hadar, Ethiopia.

After earning her Ph.D. in Anthropology, which focused on the paleoecology of hominin localities in South Africa, Kaye Reed worked as a Postdoctoral research assistant at the Institute of Human Origins (IHO), which at that time was associated with the University of California, Berkeley.  While at IHO, Dr. Reed worked along side paleoanthropologists Don Johanson, Bill Kimbel, and Tim White. In 1997 Johanson and Kimbel left Berkeley and moved IHO to Arizona State University, and offered Dr. Reed a position as an assistant professor in the department of Anthropology.

Dr. Reed has been at ASU ever since the move in 1997. She has earned a full tenured professor position, and she is the only female in the department of Anthropology to have such distinction. In 1999, Kaye accepted her first student, Amy Rector. In addition to teaching, directing field sites, and mentoring students, Dr. Reed has also served as an associate editor for the Journal of Human Evolution, a NRC panel member on Earth Sciences Context for Human Evolution, and NSF Biological Anthropology program director. Dr. Kaye Reed is a paleoecologist and paleoanthropologist that deserves to be recognized for her help with advancing women scientists in fields where men dominate the highest academic positions.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

PhD student Stephen Via wins 1st place!

Stephen Via won 1st place for best student presentation at the International Phytotechnologies Conference! He presented his work titled "Physiological and morphological responses to explosives contamination across plant functional groups”.  Additionally, Stephen was awarded travel grants through the conference and VCU graduate school.  Congratulations, Stephen, for your significant accomplishments! This is excellent recognition for you, CPEL, and the Integrative Life Sciences program at VCU. We are all very proud of you!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Ornithology for the people - Florence Merriam Bailey

By Jessie Reese

           Florence Merriam Bailey was a pioneering naturalist best known as a celebrated field guide author and for her extensive observational field studies of birds. She was born in 1863 and developed an early interest in natural history and ornithology, which became her life’s pursuit. As a community organizer and environmental advocate, she helped form several chapters of the fledgling Audubon Society and led classes in ornithology there.


She began observational studies of birds near her hometown in New York and her undergraduate institution, Smith College. In contrast to traditional ornithology at the time, where the standard was to shoot the bird first, then identify it using taxonomic key, Florence refused to kill birds, even if it meant letting one go unidentified. She authored her first field guide in 1899, Birds Through an Opera Glass, which focused on bird identification in the field for amateurs.



After living in Western North America and publishing several more identification guides, Florence moved back east and met and married Vernon Bailey, a naturalist and colleague of her brother, both of whom worked for the U.S. Biological Survey. They traveled and worked together throughout Western North America, though sources report that he “collected and studied” while she merely “observed”.




However, Florence consistently published her observations in peer reviewed journals and authored several more books, while her husband authored mostly government technical reports. Florence was recognized throughout her lifetime by such achievements as being the first female elected fellow of the American Ornithologist’s Union (AOU) and the first female awarded the AOU’s Brewster Memorial Award for her work Birds of New Mexico. However, it is likely that Florence encountered significant bias early in her career, at a time when male ornithologists opposed the growing popularity of birdwatching, in part because many field guide authors, birdwatching enthusiasts, and Audubon supporters were women. Florence also was severely underrepresented in Who’s Who in America, where she was listed simply as the “brother of C. Hart Merriam” (then the Chief Naturalist at the U.S. Biological Survey) and as being “interested in ornithology”. Interested though she was, a proper citation would include the fact that her first book was the first modern field guide of its kind, that she authored over 100 publications, and helped lead American ornithology away from collection towards the modern observational study.



Thursday, September 17, 2015

Pioneering herpetologist - Doris Mable Cochran

By Logan McDonald

Doris Mable Cochran was an American herpetologist born in 1898.  Before she formally began her collegiate education she was already working at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.  She published over 90 taxonomic publications and devoted over 20 years of studies in the West Indies. Cochran established herself in the herpetology community and was well respected by those in her field for her knowledge and experience.  For example, she was the 2nd elected distinguished fellow of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists and served as its secretary. 

Despite her contributions to the field, she experienced injustice within the Smithsonian.  This was focused around her title and pay grade- which did not reflect her level of experience.  Her supervisor, Waldo Schmitt advocated on behalf of Cochran.  Yet, individuals such as Remington Kellogg within the Smithsonian, were adamant in opposing her efforts for recognition.  Cochran retired before being properly acknowledged as a full Curator and died shortly thereafter.  Despite her lack of recognition from the Smithsonian, Cochran was acknowledged by her peers with several neo-tropical frog species named after her.