NSERC Chair for
Women in Science & Engineering

Jana Vamosi

Dr. Jana Vamosi

Practice self-care to remain calm and focussed.

Associate Professor, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
University of Calgary

Jana Vamosi received a PhD from the University of British Columbia in 2001. She then went eastward for a postdoctoral position at the University of Toronto and is now an Associate Professor at the University of Calgary. She has developed a research team focussed on biodiversity science, studying the links between floral traits and the distribution and functional ecology of plants. As the University of Calgary Herbarium Director, she is also leading initiatives to pinpoint hotspots of threatened species in Canada and determine how climate change accelerates extinction risk.

Her research program emerged from broad interests in the macroevolution and community ecology of plants and often brings phylogenetic approaches to questions pertaining to the study of plant-insect interactions and the conservation of ecosystem function. Her team is gathering more precise information on the expected phylogenetic distribution of flowering plants at risk of extinction and investigating the role of plant trait diversity in determining the stability and productivity of ecosystems.

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

I enjoy seeing my students grow in skills and confidence as they progress through their programs. Another favourite part of my job is the thrill of discovery. Plants provide a never-ending supply of fascinating information and, whether I’m doing my own work, or editing the research paper of another research group, I always find the quiet but powerful ways of plants a source of joy and wonder.

What are you researching and what excites you about it?

Currently, I'm engaged with plant conservation biology and collections-based research. I like discovering historical specimens locked in herbaria and exploring what has changed about that geographical area over time.

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

There are a wealth of opportunities in conservation biology. Often students find placements in parks and government agencies, as well as in academic teaching.

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

Yes, although not as much as in some other areas. I've had to learn how to advocate for my expertise over the years (it didn't come naturally to me). I find that taking the time to sort out what I'm confident about, and what I'd like to learn, allows me to navigate the workplace effectively.

How do you foster and encourage diversity in your workplace?

I've been involved with a group called SWEEET (Symposium for Women Entering Ecology and Evolution Today; http://sweeetecoevo.weebly.com), where we discuss issues regarding gender diversity and provide support.

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

More scholarships and mentoring. A lack of funding is an important barrier for many women as they pursue a career in science. There are some key tips to applying for scholarships and grants that should be readily conveyed to interested applicants.

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

Practice self-care to remain calm and focussed. You got this.

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

I'm awed by scientists who take on the responsibility of maintaining records of biodiversity through time as well as liberating that information so that it can be used by others. Therefore, my role models are people like Katherine Willis, the Director of Science at Kew Gardens. I've had great luck with mentors, especially having Sarah P. Otto, as a PhD supervisor. She never ceases to amaze me with her fine combination of keen intellect and patience.