Women in Aquaculture Science

By Jessica Petereit

Hi, my name is Jessica and I’m currently working as a PhD student in Aquaculture at the Alfred-Wegener Institute (AWI) in Bremerhaven.

During my Master thesis on marine biodiversity and conservation, I realized that the increasing world population couldn’t be sustainably feed by wild caught fish alone, which sparked my motivation to give my contribution to the field of sustainable seafood production.

Feeling the urge to work in an area where I can actually contribute to move forward to more sustainable outcomes, I started looking for job postings in aquaculture and was lucky to be accepted in the GAIN project.

pipetting plasm for further analysis.jpg
Preparing eppendorfs in the lab at AWI.

I know from colleagues in other institutes that aquaculture research and production is mostly male-dominated. Despite this fact, from my experience at AWI we are equally distributed in the aquaculture science department. Even though the experimental facilities lack the presence of women completely (so far!) I’ve never felt uncomfortable.

Despite this, many women in the field work in supporting the hands-on work before experiments start, therefore seeing women, even though they are not directly employed in the facility, is not uncommon.

I helped with the set-up of all my tanks for the experiment, built tubes and ventilation systems mostly on my own and was responsible when the fish arrived. All staff members were very helpful and patient, despite my short experience with aquaculture at that stage.

From my experience I don’t think women will have any problems in aquaculture science in Germany as long as they do not mind to catch and sample fish, maintain and clean tanks or to get dirty while building new tank equipment.

Women in aquaculture science

By Gabriella Pereira:

I started my life in aquaculture science as an intern while undertaking my undergrad ten years ago. I took my undergrad course in Aquaculture Engineering at the Federal University of Santa Catarina in Florianopolis, Brazil, the same institution where I also took my M.Sc. degree in Aquaculture.

At that time, I was the first girl in a microbiology laboratory lead and run by men. In general, this was also normal: there were fewer female professors at the university when compared to the number of male professionals. In comparison to nowadays, this ratio in faculty staff has shifted to almost half in Brazil.

Afterwards I applied for a Science Without Borders program from the Brazilian Government and took my PhD in the UK, more specifically at the University of Plymouth. After four years my PhD´s supervisor invited me to participate as a Research Associate Post Doc in a project financed by Innovate UK. That was officially my first career position.

In the UK, during the 5 years spent there (4 years PhD and first year Post Doctorate program), I could also see a change in the female/male ratio in biology school. However, in aquaculture there are still more men as undergrad and master students, a tendency which is also transparent in early career scientists.

Women in Aquaculture1
Gabriella working at the lab with Pirarucu’s (Arapaima gigas) samples.

A few issues and questions have contributed to this scenario. Planning personal life is the main one. For example, the aquaculture environment where you work with live animals is difficult to plan: when is the next experiment? When will it start? Fish supply is just one key point that we could mention. The lack of opportunities and facilities focused in pregnant women or who have month-old babies is another issue. In some cases, they are unable to attend conferences or courses due to this.

In this context, an interesting contribution comes from Brazil’s curriculum vitae platform: now it’s allowed for women to add to their CV the time spent in parental leave(1) where their contribution decreases drastically due to their crucial parental role. This is a huge step forward in Brazilian academic society, due to the fact that the role of mothers, parents and caretakers is traditionally seen as non-productive time (or leisure) by society (and academic society as well). As we move towards decreasing trends in birth rates, the role of children will hopefully be better valued by society.

As a young woman and researcher working in the aquaculture sector, I believe that we have our space in several roles in the industry and academia. However, until there is still sexism (and unfortunately this includes men and women), we should debate gender equality in the Aquaculture environment. I will be the first one to keep raising this flag.