Women in Science: Deirdre Halloran

My mom was a zookeeper at the Bronx Zoo and from a very young age,

I knew I wanted to work with animals…

Botswana, 2015

Continuing our blog series highlighting our former research assistants and their career trajectories since their time with us in the Peruvian Amazon, we caught up with Deirdre Halloran, who had joined our team back in 2010 when we were still known as Primates Peru. In the above photo you can see Deirdre five years later, standing outside a tent in Botswana where she spent all of summer 2015.  She had been given a grant by Cornell to GPS collar free-ranging village dogs in order to characterize their movements and identify their potential interactions with wildlife in the neighboring national park.  As she is quick to note, “there’s a lot of opportunity in veterinary medicine for biomedical and conservation research!”

What research/work/schooling have you been involved in since your time in the field with FPI/PrimatesPeru?

After my summer as an RA with Primates Peru, I returned to Boston where I worked as a veterinary technician for 2 years and applied to veterinary school. Then in 2013, I started my veterinary degree at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine! While at Cornell, I have developed a strong interest in shelter medicine and providing veterinary care to those with limited access and financial restriction. I hope to pursue a career in these areas after I graduate in 2017.

Did your experience with us help you along your career path? If so, what did you find most helpful about your relationship with us?

Yes! My experience with Primates Peru was extremely helpful on my path to veterinary medicine. I specifically chose a PP because I wanted a fully immersive and rigorous field research experience. At that point, I was heavily weighing a career in wildlife research and needed an experience like the one I had with PP to help me decide where I should go with my career. I think one of the most valuable things I learned was how much I loved the hands on trapping experience with the animals. It confirmed for me that I wanted to work one-on-one with animals and allowed me to pursue veterinary medicine in order to do that. PP also exposed me to many other scientists working at the research station, some of whom I run into at Cornell! It was so fascinating to see all the different lenses through which we could see the same place.

80% of my class is female. But this certainly wasn’t always true; it wasn’t that long ago when women weren’t allowed to be veterinarians!

When did you decide that you wanted a career in science? What led you down this path?

My mom was a zookeeper at the Bronx Zoo and from a very young age, I knew I wanted to work with animals; in fact, I think I wanted to be Jane Goodall for a while there! I solidified my interest in science when I was in high school and then more firmly in college. In some ways, I think what helped the most was also earning a humanities degree in my other major interest: Religion. With equal time spent on both Biology and Religion degrees, I was able to compare how I felt about a future in each, and eventually decided I would feel more fulfilled with a career in medicine.

Peru, 2010: tamarin mark and recapture

What do you feel are the key issues affecting not just disparity in science education for women, but also the prospects of research funding, senior faculty positions, publication, etc.?

This is a hard one for me to answer because I am very lucky to be in a field where the paradigm has shifted: 80% of my class is female. But this certainly wasn’t always true; it wasn’t that long ago when women weren’t allowed to be veterinarians! I think overall it seems as though there is an implicit bias, and that women are impaired from a very young age. Girls are sent to ballet camp rather than space camp, or pushed towards art classes rather than math bowl. It is almost as if the world still sees women as out of place in the sciences, as if we don’t inherently belong in this field. And for that reason, organizations are less likely to grant money to, offer the promotion to, or accept publications from women.

What advice would you give to young women interested in a career in the sciences?

I have never had a strong science mind. In fact, I always got better grades in my humanities classes. However, science has been my primary interest for as long as I can remember. I would remind anyone interested in a career in science that you don’t have to be the smartest or fit the perfect “scientist mold” – all you need to have is passion! Passion will drive your success. Work hard for what you love and people will see amazing potential in you. Don’t be intimidated by a male-driven field because if it’s what you love, you deserve to be right there with them! ¶