My dissertation research focuses on endocrine, ecological, and behavioral responses to changing food availability in Diana monkeys in the Tai Forest, Cote d’I’voire.
As our blog series continues, FPI (formerly Primates Peru) is reconnecting with research assistants and collaborators from the past to see where their careers have taken them, and to highlight the possibilities of – and challenges facing – women in science. To that end, Erin Kane is an inspiring example. Since discovering her deep interest in primates at an early age, she has pursued it unrelentingly around the globe: from her studies with us in South America, to her current research in Africa. Read on to learn more about what motivates her personally, as well as how she sees gender bias manifest in science education.
What research/work/schooling have you been involved in since your time in the field with FPI/PrimatesPeru?
I entered a graduate program in anthropology at Ohio State University immediately after I finished at Primates Peru (I accepted a spot in the program from a phone booth in Puerto Maldonado!). I received my MA in 2012, and will finish my PhD in the next 6-10 months. My dissertation research focuses on endocrine, ecological, and behavioral responses to changing food availability in Diana monkeys in the Tai Forest, Cote d’I’voire. I analyze my hormones at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal VA. I am also in the process of organizing a pilot study for a new project looking at stress, parasites, and human-primate interactions around the Tai Forest.
Did your experience with us help you along your career path? If so, what did you find most helpful about your relationship with us?
It definitely did. This was my first experience doing primatological field work, and I confirmed that I really love being in the forest and doing research! I was also able to get a sense of what doing dissertation research is like, and really steel myself to jump into grad school.
When did you decide that you wanted a career in science? What led you down this path?
As a bored 7th grader, my dad gave me Jane Goodall’s first book, In the Shadow of Man to read. I decided – at age 12 – that that was what I wanted to be when I grew up, and here I am, grownup-ish, basically doing exactly what I thought I would be doing 16 years ago! I have been very lucky to have had many supportive teachers and professors, but I also took full advantage of those opportunities. I also give a lot of credit to my undergraduate advisor, Tab Rasmussen, who was one of the most encouraging voices while I was in college. He taught a primate biology class in which one of the assignments was to write a field bibliography – propose a general idea for a project studying primates somewhere, and then figure out all the logistics. How would you get to the field site? What vaccines do you need? What sorts of supplies should you plan on taking? Discovering that I could get from my hometown in New Hampshire to a forest in the Republic of the Congo for about $1,500 was incredibly freeing! Tab also let me be his work study student and clean and prepare fossils for him in the basement of the anthropology building – and he took me with him to Kenya to learn how to search for fossils and deal with many of the logistics of fieldwork. I suspect he also had a hand in Mini selecting me as a field assistant… At any rate, at every step I’ve been excited by what I’m doing and found people who were excited to help me and prepare me for what I needed to get done. I’m glad to be where I am!
I would love to see more work from universities in terms of making it easier for professors, regardless of gender, to have families and succeed scientifically.
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.?
I think that structural inequalities in the way girls and boys are educated about science from elementary (or primary) school onward are the beginning of a series of barriers to equal participation and success of men and women in the sciences. Bias in science education before college, bias in the way professors approach men and women scientists, and the cumulative impact of these biases in terms of opportunities. The well-publicized harassment of mentees by men in positions of authority is another way that women are limited in their opportunities. Finally, there is a real penalty that women in academia experience when they have kids. Changing the culture of family and childcare – dividing the work of child rearing equally between men and women (polyandry for all!) – will hopefully help minimize that penalty, but I would love to see more work from universities in terms of making it easier for professors, regardless of gender, to have families and succeed scientifically.
What advice would you give to young women interested in a career in the sciences?
Realize that these disparities that you are observing are real (you’re not making them up!), and unfair, but try to work through them anyway. Don’t let confident or arrogant boys and men shake your own confidence in your classes, interests, and research. [Also] this is my general advice to anyone interested in a career in science: take more statistics than you think you need!¶