AWIS is kicking off the #SummerOfScience! We will be highlighting AWIS members and partners to show the impact different fields of science have on society – and how these fields are impacted by women.
My name is Emily Royer and I’m a PhD Candidate in the Conservation Sciences program at the University of Minnesota. More specifically, I study habitat management and reintroduction of an imperiled prairie butterfly, the Dakota skipper.
Growing up on the prairies of rural North Dakota, some of my fondest childhood memories involved chasing butterflies with my parents, who were both field biologists, and my siblings. Back then, I remember days where I was surrounded by dozens of butterflies and other prairie pollinators. Those experiences were nothing short of magical and they instilled in me a love of the outdoors and a special fondness for butterflies. When one of my favorite species of butterflies, the Dakota skipper, was listed as threatened on the US Endangered Species List, I knew I wanted to do something to help.
What do you love about this field?
The hopeful nature of my work is what I love most about being a Conservation Scientist. Unfortunately, many pollinators and other insects are at risk of extinction due to habitat loss and environmental threats. As a result, many of the species I remember seeing in abundance as a child are now very rare. As heartbreaking as it’s been to witness these declines firsthand, working to restore these populations brings me a lot of hope for the future.
How does your work benefit people and society in general?
Human health depends on a healthy environment. Without clean air, water, and healthy ecosystems, human health and well-being are at risk. Maintaining biodiversity through conservation is critical to maintaining healthy and resilient ecosystems. From the mental health benefits that we experience when spending time in nature to the pollination services insects provide that keep our food systems healthy and strong, healthy ecosystems provide humans with numerous benefits and services.
What barriers did you have to overcome to get where you are now?
Unfortunately, despite many advancements for women in STEM, we still have a long way to go on the journey to gender equity. Like many women and gender minorities, I’ve come up against my fair share of sexism and unconscious bias.
Talking to other women and gender minorities about our shared experiences has really helped. It’s how I first learned about imposter syndrome (the belief that you are less competent than your professional peers) and stereotype threat (the fear you might prove a negative stereotype right). Understanding these phenomena and how they are linked to our experiences of systemic oppression, sexism, and unconscious bias as well as hearing how others have overcome them has been essential to my ability to thrive as a PhD student.
What advice do you have for other women or non-binary individuals considering this field?
Lean into the professional relationships that feel supportive and empowering! It’s well documented that most women and gender minorities who leave STEM fields do so because the culture remains remarkably sexist. Connecting with others through organizations like the Association for Women in Science can help provide us with much needed support and empowerment. It’s much easier to advocate for yourself and work for necessary systemic change when you know you’re not in it alone.