Advice & Inspiration for Women in Science

Photo © Justine E. Hausheer / TNC

Last month, The Nature Conservancy co-hosted the 2016 Women in Science Summit along with the California Academy of Sciences and the University of California, Santa Cruz. The event helped mentor rising young scientists through the challenges common to women in STEM careers.

World-renowned leaders like Jane Goodall, Kathy Sullivan, Sylvia Earle, and Jane Lubchenco told stories from their careers as scientists and offered advice to up-and-coming women. We’ve gathered some of their advice, stories, and thoughts below.

Jane Lubchenco If an opportunity doesn’t exist, create one.

U.S. Department of State’s Science Envoy for the Ocean


Don’t pigeonhole yourself. Scientific skills have broad application in other areas, so be open to new opportunities. Be entrepreneurial. If an opportunity doesn’t exist, create one. Seek out skills beyond what academic training typically provides. Leadership training, communication training, negotiating, mediating, writing, managing people are all really useful skills regardless of which career path you choose.

If you want a partner and a family, choose your partner wisely. That is one of the most important choices you will make in your entire career … Make sure you are with someone who will support you, because that will have a huge impact on your career. You want your partner to assist you in your passion, and you should assist your partner in his or hers. At each decision point in your dual careers, it will usually be the case that it’s not equally good for both of you. Take the long view, and take turns so that the choice is not consistently better for one member of the couple.

Recognize that there are smart ways to disrupt, and there are career-killing ways to disrupt. So should you choose to be disruptive, think about how to do it in a smart way. Remember the adage of one hand up and one hand down, as you are reaching up to climb higher lend a hand to those below to assist their climb as well. Finally, believe in yourself … It’s okay to be different, its okay to think differently. It’s okay to not agree with everyone.

Jane Goodall Don’t be afraid to change direction if you find that you’ve made a mistake.

Primatologist, Ethologist, Anthropologist


Firstly, don’t jump into any branch of science or any career unless you’re really and truly sure that this is what you want to do. And don’t be afraid to change direction if you find that you’ve made a mistake.

Secondly, have the courage of your convictions. If you differ from someone or some theory, first listen to the other viewpoint, think about it, and then if, on reflection, you still think you’re right then don’t give up your own belief.

Thirdly, follow your dreams. As my mother said to me all those years ago, if you really want something you may have to work very hard, take advantage of all opportunities, and never give up.

Sylvia Earle Those who have a full life continue to ask questions…

Oceanographer; National Geographic Explorer-In-Residence; Founder, Mission Blue


As a kid … I was curious. That’s what kids do. It’s true of young things beyond humans, but it’s especially well developed in Homo sapiens. You ask questions as kids. Who, what, why, where, when, how? Somewhere along the line, a lot of kids stop asking those questions. But the scientists, the explorers, the people who have the richest lives, those who really have a full life continue to ask questions, whatever it is they become.

Dawn Wright Have the courage to escape.

Chief Scientist, Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI)


The courage to escape can be a good thing, the courage to reinvent or retool yourself — you don’t have to escape from academia or your current community to do that — but just be able to give yourself the freedom to reinvent. And also think about managing your energy, which hopefully is a limitless resource. Time has limits to it, but hopefully our energy and our love for what we are doing is unbounding.

Pamela Matson This is about respecting lots of different types of knowledge…

Dean, Stanford University School of Earth Sciences

I’ll end with the word respect. This is about respecting lots of different types of knowledge, tools, approaches, and perspectives and bringing those together to help solve the huge challenges that are facing the planet.

Heather Tallis You will always have opportunities to add a focus to a new program or initiative.

Acting Chief Scientist, The Nature Conservancy


Something to always keep in the front of your mind is that everyone will move through opportunities to add a focus to a new program or initiative. It may be small, or it may be huge. It may be a new sustainability initiative for a university, it may be a new fellowship program, or it may be a new conservation program.

For example, The Nature Conservancy started a new urban conservation program in the last couple of years. And in all of the 13 cities in the U.S. the focus is on conservation in underserved communities. There was an opportunity to make this just about urban conservation, but that’s not what the person running the program chose to do. They chose to add a critical component to the conservation work to focus it to underserved and underrepresented communities.

Everyone has an opportunity to do that, any time you are crafting anything. Whether it’s a grant proposal that is going to include some research assistance, or a new fellowship program. I think we often don’t have that far enough in the front of our minds, to bring these considerations into the opportunities we have to craft new initiatives so they always serve a dual focus.

Justine E. Hausheer

Justine E. Hausheer is an award-winning science writer for The Nature Conservancy, covering the innovative research conducted by the Conservancy’s scientists in the Asia Pacific region. She has a degree from Princeton University and a master's in Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting from New York University. Justine's favorite stories take her into pristine forests, desolate deserts, or far-flung islands to report on field research as it's happening. When not writing, you can find her traipsing after birds, attempting to fish, and exploring the wild places around her home in Brisbane, Australia. More from Justine

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