Rebecca Short (@BeccaEShort) is a Marine Biologist researching mosquito net fishing. She is taking part in Soapbox Art & Science Oxford on Saturday 1st July 2017 alongside Suzanne Vanezis, an artist from Oxford. Their project is called: “Got bigger fish to fry?: why should we care about fish even in the fight against malaria?”
by Rebecca Short
Finding my place
The World of science is a funny place. Whilst there’s room for all shapes and sizes; from lab monkeys to fieldwork junkies, it can still be a daunting place to anyone not quite sure where they fit in. I’ve certainly felt this at times in my career. I graduated with a BSc in Marine Biology having spent three years poking at limpets in Plymouth; happy with my degree but not really sure limpets were generating quite the passion in me that would carry me through a lifetime of work. I wanted to do something applied, something that made a difference, so I bumped around some marine conservation internships for a few years. I loved the work, hated the politics. I thrived on the challenges of working with local people and communicating the science we did, but was disenchanted with the ‘industry’ of exploitative volunteer organisations. Despite all this I started to feel more at home. I was energised by conservation and the memory of chasing limpets around a plastic tray towards some goal I just didn’t click with started to fade. Now I just needed to find my niche.
So after a while I took the plunge and decided to do a master’s degree. It was the best thing I ever did. I studied Conservation Science at Imperial College London. All of a sudden I was immersed in a new way of looking at science and its application. I was surrounded by course mates from all over the world, all interested in different aspects of the natural world and all with a different perspective on the routes toward the same goal – biodiversity conservation. I was introduced to the world of interdisciplinary science, which at the time largely manifested as bellowing disagreement at a fellow student during a discussion, then minutes later earnestly asking for their input on an idea. For my thesis I trotted off to Madagascar as a marine biologist to measure sharks in local fisheries, but came back a burgeoning social scientist having had my epiphany moment; fisheries are mostly about people.
Rather fittingly, I am now studying for my PhD with the Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science at Oxford University, supported by the Zoological Society of London and the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial. A true mix of influences! I’m still a marine biologist and I still measure fish, but I also measure impacts on people by looking at fisheries as a whole socio-ecological system. I’m specifically looking at the use of mosquito nets as fishing gear in Sub-Saharan Africa – an intensely complicated issue of sustainability, livelihoods, health and cultural aspects. It is incredibly challenging but so incredibly rewarding. So I’ll be chatting to people about how interdisciplinary science is challenging how we manage fisheries, particularly in the developing world.
This type of science is a rapidly gaining traction. As such it’s pretty choc-a-bloc with forward thinkers. So, as far as being a woman in science goes I feel pretty lucky; we’re not only well represented in this field, but also hugely encouraged. Perhaps the encouragement to challenge scientific norms has helped me to challenge those of equality also – I’m certainly much more vocal these days! But of course few people are yet immune, and I feel very passionately about equality in science – I would like for everyone to feel as accepted in their academic environment as I do. I would also hope that my stumbles along the road to finding my place in science could inspire others. You certainly don’t have to fit any kind of mould, least of all dependent on your gender! And I really hope for the limpets’ sake that there’s someone more committed to that type of research than I was! Soapbox Science has been an inspiration to me for years and as an interdisciplinary researcher I was naturally drawn to the chance to work with someone from the art community. I can’t wait to see how people react on the day and I’m really looking forward to the learning experience!