Dr. Alison Murray

Gender has nothing to do with it! If you want to pursue science or engineering, go for it.

Associate Professor, Biological Sciences
University of Alberta

I moved across the country during my education with a BSc from University of Victoria, MSc from University of Alberta and PhD from McGill University. I spent many years working at the Canadian Museum of Nature, before joining the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta in 2006.

As an academic, what is your favourite part of your job?

Doing research - as a palaeontologist one of my favourite activities is examining the fossils and describing them. I normally work on material that is 20 to 100 million years old, and I always find it fascinating to know I am holding something that was alive so many millions of years ago.

What are you researching and what excites you about it?

I work on fossil fishes, describing new genera and species, determining their evolutionary relationships, and trying to decipher their biogeography - how they got where they were including looking at such factors as changing continental configurations, marine barriers, or other geological and environmental issues.

What types of professions can students graduating in your field enter?

With an undergraduate degree, our students have gone on to careers in fossil preparation, paleontological resource assessments, and working in science education. With a graduate degree, students have gone on to become college instructors or university professors, working as scientists in natural history museums, or consultants for land assessments (in areas where paleontological resources are protected, then the consultant will work with companies to recover fossils that might otherwise be damaged or lost)

Is your workplace male-dominated? If so, how do you negotiate being a woman in a male-dominated workplace and/or field?

Although palaeontology is both biology and geology, I am in the Department of Biological Sciences, and I think this is the area in the Faculty of Science with the largest number of women. The department still has more men than women, but there have been efforts over the years to increase the numbers of women. In the geological sciences, men are still the majority.

How do you foster and encourage diversity in your workplace?

I don't actively foster or encourage diversity, but I try to give equal encouragement and support to all students. Despite not being active in encouraging diversity, my own current and former graduate and undergraduate students have come from all over the world, and the majority are women.

What kinds of systemic support could institutions provide to help encourage girls and women to pursue careers in science and engineering?

I think the U of Alberta makes a great deal of effort to support girls and women in sciences. We have a 'Dean of Diversity' who has spent many years fostering and encouraging the participation of girls and women in science. My faculty and department regularly support the WISEST initiatives

What advice would you give to girls or young women who are interested in careers in science or engineering?

Gender has nothing to do with it! If you want to pursue science or engineering, go for it.

As a professional in science or engineering, who are your role models and mentors?

Most of my role models have been men, not surprisingly as most of the senior people in my field are men. Both my MSc and PhD supervisors were important role models for me.