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Genetics & Gender

Introducing the wonderful Dr. Victoria Metcalf. She is a passionate women in science and I had the great privilege to ask her some questions.

Can you introduce yourself?

My name is Victoria Metcalf, and I work in the Office of the Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor as the National Coordinator of Participatory Science. This is a new and exciting initiative.

What are some things you are really passionate about?

Back when I studied at school, DNA and genetics weren't taught much at school level. I quite liked bio, and so when I went to Otago Uni. I decided to do a science degree. They introduced us to the inside of cells and DNA. It just seemed like there was no other option for me; I was so interested in learning more about biochemistry and genetics. I wanted to tie what I was learning back to animals, as I found animals fascinating. Marine biology and veterinary medicine were career options I had previously thought about. I have moved a little away from pure research now, but I maintain some research interests in the marine biology space.

How can you relate to an organisation like Girlboss?

I think this is a fabulous initiative. I’m glad someone had the foresight to create this, and the peer-to peer mentoring and youth for youth concept is great. Fostering connections to STEM careers is also brilliant. I was recently at an unconference, WWGSD (Women Who Get S*** Done), with 130 women all over NZ from different sectors, ages, all doing amazing stuff and it highlighted to me how important mentoring and support is. WWGSD was run by Pledgeme. More things like GirlBoss, with the youth for youth focus, as well as mentoring for career prospects are great approaches. To create an easier path for girls into STEM requires us providing more support for them.

Can you talk a bit about AWIS and what it does?

I don’t have any responsibilities within AWIS- but AWIS has been around for some time. They hold conferences, and get women together through networking events across main centres, where they share stuff that may be relevant to other women.  They also promote scholarships, events, funding etc.

Would you aim to reach out to a younger audience at any stage being within the Office of the PM’S Chief Science Advisor

In my role we have a focus on creating opportunities for young people to be involved with science and technology, via participatory science projects. The more we know about existing youth initiatives, the more we can do together. A large part of my role is connecting people to each other. The WWGSD unconference (WWGSD) I went to also did this by setting up connections and furthering existing mentoring programmes.

If you could change something in the science field, what would it be?

First thing- make it an inclusive community. We still don’t do well in the sciences with respect to gender, or other aspects of diversity. We must strive to have equity across our sector. There are so many barriers to those who don't fit the stereotype, and we don’t do enough to break down such obstructions.

Second thing- open access. There is a strong movement to make what we do (research outcomes) more transparent and openly available -that’s within and outside the scientific community.

From a university perspective, there are more entering university in many science subjects than there are jobs within those sectors. This can create disappointment for those who have worked hard to finish their education. We must look at this. We need to also be equipping students with other transferable skill sets. We must consider how we structure our degrees to be more realistic about the workforce and the types of careers that students will likely progress onto.

What’s your opinion on sexism in the science field?

I think individual perspectives vary widely, but most women would encounter both subtle and not so subtle sexism over their careers. This can cause some to leave their careers in science. And for those that don't leave, the sexism they experience can have a significant impact on their career.

Any comments?

Genetics is definitely widely used, but its importance is not always obvious, as molecular biological techniques are becoming commonly incorporated into many kinds of biological sciences, rather than being standalone. Genetics for example, is incredibly important to many aspects of modern medicine.

Any advice?

Make a wide network of those in and out of the science field. Seek out mentors: have many, don’t put all your eggs in one basket, as it’s not uncommon for mentors to let you down at some point. Some you might think will be great support aren't always. Don't be afraid to reach out to people above you, and there's great value in peer-to-peer mentoring. Also, having younger mentors can also be good for support.

And if you're uncomfortable in a situation tell someone you trust about it. We must be more open about these situations, so we can do more about them.

See Dr. Victoria Metcalf's blog here

Written by Maitreyi Aria Jain

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