What drew you to science rather than more traditionally accepted societal roles for women?
I guess part of my answer is that I’ve not known or been led to believe in traditionally accepted societal role models for women. My family immigrated to the United States from the Philippines when I was very young. My early female role models were the working career women in my family – strong, independent, and fiercely supportive of all my ambitions.
I’ve always been a voracious reader, perhaps as a consequence of trying to find my place between two cultures – fascinated with how the world worked, how people worked, why things happened. And I was and still am a huge fan of all nature and animal programmes. I was drawn to biology and engineering as a pathway to a career in medicine, but I was very interested in my courses in environmental sciences and air monitoring studies. That interest ultimately lead to a very fulfilling career, bridging all these parts of me, in global environmental protection.
What were the two main obstacles you encountered in your career as a woman and how did you overcome them?
I think that I’ve had great opportunities in my career and feel that I’ve had a say in the format and scale of my various projects. As a woman and looking back over a long career, I admit to some obstacles being of my own making, such as not having the confidence or hesitating in taking on more leadership roles when these presented themselves early in my career.
In my early projects at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington, D.C., I worked with many industry sectors supporting their transition to alternatives to ozone-depleting halons. These highly specialised sectors included military, oil and gas, aviation, shipping, and buildings fire protection. Notably, it was my expertise and ability to understand and work through options for these sectors, building relationships with the group, as well as individual experts that made these collaborations successful. Serving on national and international standards committees related to these sector transitions, I again had the opportunity to see objectives reached by consensus and the importance of relationships. These were excellent training grounds to my current career position where I have an opportunity to lead a programme at the EPA, as well as serve as one of the current Co-chairs of the Technology and Economic Assessment Panel.
I’m grateful for male and female mentors and colleagues who gave me these critical opportunities to learn, to be able present and write technical information accurately and clearly, to be convincing and credible when collaborating on projects, to build important relationships, to achieve goals and be successful, and to lead.
What sacrifices, if any, have you had to make to get where you are today, and do you have any regrets?
A career in science is interesting, challenging, and satisfying because you’re constantly learning and know that your work makes a difference, as idealistic as that sounds. It demands your commitment and time, which means work time can bleed into family time so finding that balance is key. At one point when my children were very young, it was untenable that my husband and I both had work involving significant international travel. After nearly a two-year break in my career which I don’t regret, I had the opportunity to resume my work at EPA, part-time at first, and grateful to have retained my career path there.
What advice would you give to young girls and women who are considering a career in the sciences?
I would say go for it! I’m even more excited at the opportunities now than when I started my career. I think science offers lots of pathways that can continue to interest, challenge, and provide opportunities throughout a career. I would advise those considering a career in science to be curious and advocate for your interests – seek out scientists that are doing research of interest, read widely to see what scientific breakthroughs are happening in your field of interest, and build those important relationships with mentors who can guide your path of scientific study and/or career.
What has been the highlight - or most memorable event - of your scientific career to date?
In 2012, I was first nominated by parties to the Montreal Protocol to serve as a Co-chair of TEAP. It was a daunting role, building on the work of other long-time co-chairs and members to the panel. It is a privilege to serve in this capacity, providing leadership on the panel’s work for parties, and working closely with the other two panels, the Scientific Assessment Panel and the Environmental Effects Assessment Panel. I’ve had the opportunity to work with respected experts from all over the world. I’m very proud of the panel’s work and grateful for the support and guidance from colleagues on the TEAP, and in particular, my female colleagues on the TEAP, who are themselves amazing models of women in science.
Any final thoughts?
This past year has shown us the vulnerability of our human population and the power of scientific advances. Science will continue to demand a response to global environmental threats. If we want more scientists, then we need to create those opportunities early and often in education systems around the world to ensure access to scientific information, technology, and a global learning community.