NSERC Chair for
Women in Science & Engineering

Dr. Evelyn Merrill

I have several keys to surviving not only a career but life.

Professor, Biological Sciences
University of Alberta

Dr. Evelyn Merrill (Evie) is a Professor in the Dept. of Biological Sciences at the Univ. of Alberta. She received her MSc from the Univ. of Idaho and her PhD from the Univ. of Washington. She has conducted research on cervid foraging and habitat ecology for the past 35 years in a diversity of ecosystems across North America.

She and her students’ current research include a 16-year study of the trophic dynamics of a partially migratory elk population in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, and spatial spread and population transmission of CWD in the prairies provinces of Canada. She is a Fellow of The Wildlife Society, served as President of The Canadian Section and the Alberta Chapter of The Wildlife Society.

She was awarded the Alumnae Award from the University of Idaho, the Dedicated Service and the William Rowan Distinguished Professional Awards from the Alberta Chapter, and the Dedicated Service Award from The Wildlife Society, and the Wildlife Researcher Award from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Recently she stepped down as the Editor-In-Chief of the Journal of Wildlife Management. Her hobbies include traveling, gardening, horseback riding and entertaining her grandkids.

As an academic, what is your favourite part of your job?
I love field work and putting the data together to try to find solutions to help manage or conserve wildlife species. Doing this alongside my students is the most rewarding.

What are you researching and what excites you about it?

I have 2 applied topics of research. I study trophic dynamics of wolves-elk-grasslands and the consequences for the loss of the migratory patterns. The world is ever changing and making heads and tails out of the mechanisms behind these dynamics is really enthralling. My research on chronic wasting disease is somewhat different because of its urgency to find ways to control the spread of this disease. Understanding how animal behavior translates to disease transmission at the population level is what excites me.

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

Wildlife managers and biologists for the government, non-governmental organizations, academia, environmental consultants, nature/environmental education.

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

Although my work place is not male dominated, because I work on large mammals, in particular ungulates (hoofed- animals), my field remains male-dominated. I approach the field creatively, with passion and as myself.

How do you foster and encourage diversity in your workplace?

I support both minorities and women in the students I take on and in the organizations I participate in. I try to connect with my younger peers and have given talks and led discussions on women issues in particular.

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

The biggest challenge in academia, and perhaps other careers, is that your most productive years are also your child-bearing years. As a result, most women still go through a period of slow advancement (an Allee effect) even if they get their foot in the door. This sets them back and takes them longer to achieve the same status as some men. But the wait is well worth it, especially if you love what you are doing and would do it anyway.

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

I have several keys to surviving not only a career but life. Find your passion; it will keep you going during all the ups and downs and help you believe in yourself when you stumble. Do not have a “fear of flying”; take opportunities. Frame problems and failures in a positive and learning framework. Find creative solutions. Look at your long-term average. Be kind and acknowledge others.

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

I have both men and women role models. The men for inspiring me intellectually; the early women for instilling an admiration I have for their intelligence, perseverance, graciousness, and humor.