By Megan Layhee

I am a biologist with a local non-profit.

In my career I have been involved in research in Hawaii, Alaska, Montana, Idaho, Illinois, and California. And through those experiences I have learned that there are very real issues my generation and future generations will face. I also know that we still have a long way to go for gender equality, not only in the sciences, but in many other professions.

When I was young, I couldn’t have fathomed that I would turn into the professional I am today. I was a cautious, shy introvert, who really doubted her potential. But it wasn’t until later that I discovered my self-worth, and passion for science and conservatism.

During those idealistic days of my early career, I realized that it wasn’t enough to just be me. As a woman in the sciences, I had a lot to prove. I was in a male-dominated profession, at least in my experience, and I had to show that I could do everything my male colleagues could do.

And it was also during those early idealistic days of my career when I realized that society is having a profound impact on the earth.

Much of my research used to be centered around the introduction of invasive species to ecosystems, and how those introduced species impacted food webs and natural communities. But it was apparent then that so many other human actions were leading to shifts in the fragile balance of the natural world.

At the global scale, land-alteration, exponential human growth, pollution, and fossil fuel emissions, are having profound impacts to the earth. Leading, in part, to things like climate change, species mass extinction, and several billion metric tons of plastic waste ending up in our oceans.

Here in California, increasing wildfire intensity, unprecedented tree mortality, surface and groundwater depletion, and native species extinction is happening across the state. These may be due, at least in part, to human-induced climate change, the introduction of invasive species, over-consumption of freshwater and groundwater, land alteration, and pollution.

This is all very depressing information, but it’s important to point out that it is because of science that we know we have significant global environmental problems. And even though I am more jaded than I once was, I’m still an idealist, and still believe that we can reverse, or at least halt degradation of the earth. Science is essential to achieving that.

In this charged political climate, many have questioned the validity of scientific data and the legitimacy of the scientific process. Because of this, scientists, now, more than ever before, have a critical role in society. And that is to attain the information and get that information out to the public. And being the idealist that I am, I believe women have a very important role in the future of science.

As one of our centuries most well-spoken female scientists and conservationists, Dr. Jane Goodall, said, “The advice I give to young people today is exactly what my mother gave to me when I was 10 and I said I’m going to grow up go to Africa, live with wild animals and write books about them. Everybody laughed. How could I do that? We didn’t have any money. World War II was raging. I was just a girl. But my mother always said, ‘if you really want something, you’re going to have to work hard, you’ll have to take advantage of every opportunity, but don’t give up.’”

I have to agree with Dr. Goodall, and even today her mother’s advice still holds true. For all those young girls out there, who think they might want to be scientists someday, do it. There’s a lot we still don’t understand about the natural world, how the human race can further degrade it, and what solutions await to be discovered to fix it.

Megan Layhee works with water and fisheries issues in the central Sierra. This is an excerpt of a talk she gave at the Women’s March in Sonora this year.

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