Today, Boston GLOW introduces a series of blog posts highlighting some impressive work of local women as we gear up for our June 19th Spitfire Event - Survival of the Fittest: Dynamic Women and the Career You Envision. Our first post is from Lindsay Aylesworth a current PhD Candidate researching and studying seahorses throughout the world. Lindsay is an academic leader and innovator in her field and we are thrilled to have her share her experiences in finding her ideal career as a woman in 2012! Follow and Support Lindsay's work!!
On June 12, 2002, the world as I knew it changed. I stepped into my wetsuit, donned my mask, and stuck in my regulator as I took my first plunge into what would become my life of adventure as a marine biologist.
My passion for marine biology began when I learned to scuba dive. I thought it was such an amazing experience to “swim with the fishes.” I went off to college thinking I was going to be a Spanish and business major – someday I would work for the U.S. embassy in Spain. However, the first summer after my freshman year I joined a marine conservation expedition in Mexico to try something adventurous and new. On this trip I combined scuba diving and science for the first time and the marine biologist inside me was born. How cool would it be to have your job include scuba diving and swimming with the fishes? I’ve spent my life since that moment trying to accomplish this task.
After finishing undergrad, most of my friends took internships and jobs at policy organizations, law firms or consulting companies. I chose the path less traveled and worked on a sailboat in the Caribbean teaching marine biology and scuba diving. By doing something I love, work never really feels like work.
My passion for seahorses began in Australia. It was 2004. I was studying at the James Cook University in Townsville, Australia. A final project for a marine biology class required an oral presentation on the conservation status of a species that lived in the ocean. I stood outside Professor Geoff Jones’s office inspecting the list of possible species. The only problem was that all the species names were in Latin. The obvious characters like Delphinus delphis, (sounds like dolphin right?), were already been taken. As I gazed at the list, one struck my fancy, Hippocampus. Cool, I thought. Sounds like Hippopotamus. I signed up to present on Hippocampus, which turned out to be the scientific name for seahorses, and the rest is history! I found out that they can camouflage themselves to blend in with the environment (the ultimate challenge for an experienced scuba diver), they can mate for life, and they are the only fish species that can hold your hand. My fascination with seahorses was born.
Being a female leader in the marine biology world is a difficult task. The science and academic realm are still dominated by men, especially in leadership positions. Everyone has heard of Jacques Cousteau but how many people have heard of Sylvia Earle? Famous female role models in the sciences are often not as prevalent as men. But we have come a long way from the days when only Madame Curie was remembered as a famous female scientist.
Here are some of the females I have been inspired me due to their passion for what they study:
Rachel Carson: first raised concerns about the harmful effects of pesticides in her book Silent Spring, her work led to the ban of DDT;
Jane Goodall: world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees;
Sylvia Earle: Ocean Explorer, Time Magazine’s first “Hero for the Planet”, key player in the creation of Google Oceans, and world record holder for the deepest solo depth dive in a submarine for women;
Eugenie Clark: “the shark lady,” known for her research on poisonous fish and behavior of sharks;
Amanda Vincent: the first person to study seahorses underwater, document the extensive trade in these fishes and initiate a seahorse conservation project.
Aside from these role models I am inspired by my favorite sea creature, the seahorse. That’s right ladies, these funky female fish have got it made because the males have the babies!
Now hold on a minute. You may be wondering if the males have the babies, why aren’t they called females? How does that work? Well let me explain. The males have a pouch like a kangaroo. When the time is right, the female deposits her eggs into the pouch. The male fertilizes them, babies develop inside the pouch, and then after about two weeks, out pop the seahorse fry, ready to swim off and explore the ocean world. Now if this concept doesn’t break the mold about traditional roles of men and women I don’t know what does! So as a young woman, don’t be afraid to forge your own path and explore your options. Follow your passions. Who knows where the winds may take you, but adventure awaits!
You can follow Lindsay's adventures on twitter @L_Aylesworth and @projectseahorse! or http://seahorse.fisheries.ubc.ca/.