Toptal Scholarship for Women Application
The ripple effect of individual actions:
How to change the world and empower women in science
When I was young, I had an intense drive within myself to protect natural areas and wildlife. I couldn’t understand why humans were distancing themselves so much from nature, when I felt so much a part of it. I always said “ I would rather get lost in a forest, than lost in a city!” and I think I still feel the same today. I would hand paint turtle crossing signs and put them up in my neighbourhood, pick up litter along my road, and would optimistically imagine myself as a young Jane Goodall or David Suzuki, educating the world on the human impacts to our environment. As I grew older though, especially throughout university, I found I was beginning to get overwhelmed and feel overburdened with the amount of environmental challenges our world was facing. I didn’t feel empowered to really do anything about it or know where to start. I also never imagined myself in the field of science and research, until one day when I was walking along a beach on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
It was on that beach that I discovered something powerful in the sand. What I found wasn’t shells as I expected, it was tiny pieces of plastic as far as the eye could see. The more pieces of plastic I picked up and counted the more questions I had. Where did all this plastic come from? How long had it been here? Are there animals eating it? With so many questions, I kicked off my scientific research career to find answers to this massive problem.
I am currently working on my Masters of Science degree, and researching plastic pollution in Canada’s arctic. I find the challenges that research provides exciting and fulfilling. Since beginning my research, I have become very passionate about communicating science, and the topic of plastic pollution to a variety of audiences, as well as being a voice for women in science. Through my work I have found that plastic pollution is a topic that many people can understand and relate too, and can take steps towards living a more sustainable lifestyle. I recently launched my website, and am using a variety of social media to start conversations of science, female empowerment and environmental conservation. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to communicate my research and that people are listening and coming to me with questions about science and sustainability-- it makes me feel empowered! I want to inspire and empower other women in science to reach wider audiences and start new conversations.
If I were to receive the Toptal Scholarship I would use the funds to host a workshop on female leadership for young women ages 18-30 with an interest in science and environmental conservation. This workshop would be free and accessible and bring together women from a variety of expertise, with the purpose of supporting each other and connecting individuals with local mentors. During this workshop I will screen the documentary “Ms. Scientist” and follow it with a with a panel discussion featuring 3 to 4 women in STEM. The resources I would need to make this event happen would be an event space, marketing materials to get the word out about the event, food and drinks and gifts to thank the panelists for their time. Organising this workshop would allow Toptal to not only have an impact on my own personal development, but many other young women.
In today’s world, we need young women to feel inspired, pursue their goals and feel comfortable in taking risks. Globally, women are still minorities in science, making up less than 30% of the works force (UNESCO, 2015). Women in science need to feel they have a community of support behind them.
Women in every field experience the “imposter syndrome”, myself included. Imposter syndrome occurs when an individual feels they are not smart or experienced enough to be in their career or other type of role. The imposter syndrome unfortunately holds many women back from reaching their goals whether it is applying to a job, asking for a raise, or bringing forward an idea at a team meeting. A study done by Georgia State University found that 70% of women in science have felt like an imposter in their workplace or graduate studies. That is a lot of women not believing in themselves!
The women’s workshop that I would host in Vancouver would focus on exploring the imposter syndrome and ways to break through these feelings of personal doubt to achieve our full potential. Young women need to feel like their knowledge and skill set is useful, and that asking for advice and help shows resourcefulness, not weakness. If this workshop is a success, I would like this event to be an annual occurrence with online support as an ongoing resource for all who attend.
I believe receiving the Toptal Scholarship would not only help me get this support network off the ground, but it would make a huge difference in my own professional life, and boost my already speed-of-light momentum to succeed as a young female scientist and conservation leader. This past year, I was honoured to be named one of Canada’s Top 30 under 30 Sustainability Leaders by Corporate Knights. Receiving this acknowledgment has helped motivate me to continue building my leadership skills. Following my Masters of Science degree, I would also like to pursue my PhD with the financial support and mentorship provided by Toptal.
I need a mentor to help me build a realistic road map to help me reach my goals. I would look to my mentor for advice on organising the vancouver-based workshop, as well as helping me to be strategic about what I say “yes” to. I like to say yes to many opportunities, but recognise this is not always sustainable and can cause professional burnout. I would appreciate advice from a female mentor who has also juggled a busy schedule and learned to work “smarter, not harder”!
Being a role model for young women
I will finish this blog post by sharing a quick story that I think illustrates the value of science communication, and being a mentor or role model for even one person.
The other day I was independently working on my samples in the lab, and it was one of those days where everything just isn’t working correctly. I dropped a sample, the microscope wasn’t working, I performed an analysis wrong—I was feeling kind of discouraged and wondering, does any of this work really matter? Then at the perfect moment, a message popped up in my emails. It was a note from a mother who attended one of my recent talks with her daughters at an event held in Vancouver, BC. She told me that my talk inspired her kids and that one of her daughters wants to be like me when she grows up. She told me her daughter who is just 11 years old, is already planning her career as a marine biologist and asking questions about how to reach this goal. This simple yet thoughtful message from a stranger was a reminder that the hard work I put in removing myself from the confines of the lab and communicate my research to the world means something—especially to young women. The answer to my own question that day was YES, what I am doing does really matter. I hope this young girl continues to feel inspired, and one day she can inspire another person to pursue what they feel passionate about too!
Do you have ideas of how I can engage more young women in conservation and science? Leave a comment below!