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Women in STEM and Urchins in Antarctica

Women in STEM and Urchins in Antarctica

An Interview with Dr. Cecilia Brothers  

By Summer Boulais 

Cecilia Brothers, Ph.D. is one of two female biology professors here at Walla Walla University. Her credentials include a bachelor’s and master’s degree in biology from WWU, as well as a Ph.D. from the University of Alabama Birmingham. As a marine ecologist, Brothers’ research focused on one of her favorite marine invertebrates: sea urchins.  

This is Dr. Brothers with an all women dive/boat team on International Women’s Day in 2018. Photo by Cecilia Brothers. 

Brothers’ research was based in Antarctica and studied the effects of climate change on invertebrates. She describes one of her favorite memories in Antarctica as “driving a boat to somewhere only a handful of people have gone before, or remote locations were a wow experience.” [1] Though well-qualified to participate in the research project, Brothers expressed how lucky she felt to be a part of the team in Antarctica not once but twice.  

“Returning to Antarctica may have been lucky because I was available, and how you handle experiences the first time leads to a more likely opportunity to be invited back,” says Brothers. [2]  

She explained that her education from WWU provided her broad knowledge of biology, as well as specific understanding of marine topics ecosystems from Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory. The opportunity to join the team in Antarctica arose for Brothers because she was available to return and had a reputation as a hard worker. 

Brothers stated that “the process of science is the same no matter where you are.” [3] She has enjoyed her scientific journey whether it is conducting research in Antarctica or teaching students in Washington. 

Brothers explained what it was like to teach at WWU by describing how great her students are. The only challenge she has come across is the occasional need to earn respect as someone who looks younger. One of her favorite parts of teaching is how excited students are to be in her classes.  

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 Here is Dr. Brothers representing WWU in beautiful Antarctica. Photo by Cecilia Brothers. 

Brothers shared that the gender ratio in the ecology field has more women in general. However, this ratio is not reflected in the higher-level occupations as shown by our own biology department. There are currently two out of six professors in WWU’s biology department that are women, with Joan Redd, Ph.D., being the second. The gender ratio of scientists in the field has become more balanced, but men are often the ones in charge of research projects.  

Learning about the history of women in Antarctica was inspiring for Brothers when working with Maggie Amsler, who was a part of one of the first groups to go to Antarctica. Amsler was one of the members of the late Mary Alice McWhinnie, Ph.D.’s research team. McWhinnie was the first woman to be named chief scientist at McMurdo Station, the largest U.S. base in Antarctica. [4] All of these women have made great contributions towards ecology research in Antarctica, as well as earned significant roles in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields.  

Brothers is an inspiration for women aspiring to have careers in science and conduct research. Amsler and McWhinnie are also excellent examples of how women can excel in higher positions, as well as earning opportunities to do more in the field through dedication.  

References  

  1. Interview with Cecilia Brothers, 5/4/2021. 
  1. Interview with Cecilia Brothers, 5/4/2021. 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Amsler, Maggie. (2021). Maggie Amsler research associate UAB department of biology. UAB in Antarctica. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/3b9aHM0. 
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