Women's History Month 2021: Marine Affairs researcher Megan Bailey on being a woman working in her field

- October 7, 2021

Megan Bailey. (Provided photo)
Megan Bailey. (Provided photo)

This October, as part of our coverage of Women's History Month in Canada, we ask a few of Dalhousie's many amazing researchers to reflect on their experiences as women working across a range of different fields.

We begin below with Megan Bailey, an associate professor in the Faculty of Science’s Marine Affairs program and Canada Research Chair in Integrated Ocean and Coastal Governance (Tier II).

What is your main area of research and what drew you to it?

My area of research is at the intersection of ecosystems and humans -- specifically, fisheries. I was drawn to it after a degree in zoology and a year of field work studying monkeys in Suriname, where I realized that an understanding of the human dimension of resource use was vital to any conservation endeavour. So, I don’t study fish (as many friends and family still think I do!), but rather I study the human relationship with fish through the activity of fishing: that is, how fisheries are allocated and governed, and who benefits from those decisions. This work takes me all over the world. In 2018, I travelled to Kenya, South Africa, the U.S., Thailand, Indonesia and Fiji for field work or to attend or present at meetings, as well as conducting work here in Canada.  

What has it been like being a woman working in your field?

There is room for all kinds of people in the field of fisheries. If you are good at math, we have a job for you! If you are good at understanding complex systems, step right up! Are you a people person? We need you! I have not found being someone who identifies as a woman to be a barrier in my research or my career. There are some things one needs to consider (is there a toilet on the boat, is travelling alone putting myself at risk, etc.), but ensuring strong relationships with partners wherever you are doing research helps to enable a safe and productive working environment. It also makes the research more meaningful and more fun.  

Has it become easier for women to pursue research in this area and what remains to be done to encourage more women to join this field?

I think it’s become easier in the sense that fisheries management has matured to be more about people and systems and governance than strictly population dynamics and field work, with those latter two probably still being male dominated. Women still contribute greatly in those traditional areas, but the increasing role of the marine social sciences in fisheries research is likely opening more doors for women to participate and thrive than previously.

What advice would you give young girls and women who are interested in pursuing a career in this field?

Seek out mentors. If you hear a talk or read someone’s paper and she motivates or inspires you or you think, ‘Heck, that’s what I’d like to do one day,’ contact that person. I get people who send me emails and messages through Twitter and Facebook. I will always make time to chat with those who are trying to find their way in this world, and I know many of my friends and colleagues in this field feel the same way. Ask how someone got to where they are. Develop a support network, make people know you and what you are looking for, so when that door opens, they know who should walk through it.


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