Why it’s Important to Get Girls Interested in Science

Female scientist in the field researching bees, International Day of Women and Girls in Science

By: Robyn McCallum

I have always enjoyed reading, writing, and music.  Growing up, I found subjects like English and History interesting, but when I took my first in-depth science course in middle school, I struggled.

It was the first class that I had ever done poorly on a test before. I wanted to give up, but my parents encouraged me to dig in my heels and succeed. They were the ones who studied the text book with me every night, and carried out science experiments with me so I understood the lessons. I remember designing an aluminum foil boat in the sink with my father so that I would better understand surface area - the object of the lesson was to determine which boat style would hold the most pennies.

Whenever I struggled with science, my parents were there to help me through. They both have an educational background in science, and they related the science lessons to topics I cared about; nature and agriculture. Because of them, I knew I wanted to take on the challenge of science and pursue it after high school.

I remember sitting in high school and thinking that I could pursue writing, but I also knew that science, even though it wasn’t easy, would open doors to opportunities I truly enjoyed. I’m so glad I chose this challenging path, because it has led me to incredible opportunities.

Robyn is pursuing her PhD (Biology) in native pollinators and natural enemies. Can you spot the bee?

During my graduate studies, I was able to present at a number of conferences and build my communication skills. My work is focused on bees and I was able to I travel to Arizona to learn from some of the best bee researchers in the world. I also represented Canada as the student delegate for the 2014 Chicago Council of Global Affairs’ Food Security Symposium in Washington, D.C.

After completing a Bachelor of Science, I am continuing my post-secondary education and now pursuing my PhD (Biology) in native pollinators and natural enemies. Along the way, I became a CST Graduate Award winner, which has not only helped me financially, but also inspired me to keep working hard and pursue my dreams. Education has been instrumental in my journey. It has led me to where I am today.

WATCH: Robyn and other 2016 Graduate Award winner share their CST Success story.

I currently work with honey bees for blueberry pollination. By optimizing bee health and productivity, blueberry pollination can be improved, contributing to the growing blueberry industry in Atlantic Canada.

Understanding the science behind bee biology and pollination, as well as being able to connect to farmers and beekeepers, has opened doors for me in my career, and reaffirmed that my determination to pursue science was worthwhile. I am excited to work on bee health and productivity, and be a part of the growing blueberry industry in Atlantic Canada.

Robyn hard at work!

Pursuing science doesn’t mean I don’t get a chance to be creative. My love of writing has also helped me through my science studies, as I am able to communicate my findings to different audiences. This has also allowed me to adapt presentations and extend my work to groups and tailor communication style appropriately.

I am always fascinated and grateful when I have the opportunity to share science with others, and in particular, with young females. From volunteering on campus for a girls’ science camp, to visiting schools to talk about pollinators, to giving tours of my farm - I enjoy showing the science behind everything and the importance of its study. I also enjoy sharing the possibilities for females in science, and discussing the positive female scientists I’ve been mentored by. Whenever I’ve felt particularly challenged or frustrated, I’ve always had an inspiring mentor that has encouraged me to persevere. I think this is an important part of encouraging women in science- we need to support one another and share our stories.

Robyn enjoys sharing the importance of science while giving tours of her farm.

So, although science began as a struggle, I’m so glad I didn’t give up. It has been worth the journey. I hope my story has shown one of the many paths for women in science. By being surrounded by a supportive network, working hard, and figuring out which path in science suited me best, I am proud to say I am a woman in science.

Robyn McCallum is from New Brunswick but is currently working and studying across the Maritimes. Her background is in Animal Science, and she is currently pursuing a PhD in Biology. Robyn works with honey bees and native pollinators in lowbush blueberry agroecosystems, and also grows crops on her own farm. She is a 2016 CST Graduate Scholarship Award recipient and a CST Beneficiary.