NSERC Chair for
Women in Science & Engineering

Dr. Jane Waterman

Be determined. Don't let anyone tell you that it is too hard to be successful.

Professor, Biological Sciences
University of Manitoba

Jane Waterman is a professor in Biological Sciences at the University of Manitoba specializing in animal behaviour. Her research has focused on the factors that influence the evolution of sociality and mating systems. The majority of her research focuses on sociality in ground dwelling squirrels. By comparing differences in behavioural development, dispersal, reproduction, life history and social structure among and within different squirrel species, the influence of these factors on sociality and mating tactics can be determined.

For the past few decades, she has studied the behaviour of a southern African ground squirrel. She has focused her research on cooperative behaviours, reproduction, mating, and interactions with other species (particularly as ecosystem engineers). In North America, she has investigated reproduction in Richardson's ground squirrels, evaluating sex differences in parasite infections. She has also studied male grouping in the polar bear, a marine species in which amicable male groups form. Such all-male groups are quite rare among mammals and thus provide an excellent opportunity to gain important insights into what factors lead to sociality.

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

Field work. Watching wild animals behave is why I got into science in the first place. Trying to understand the evolutionary significance of these behaviours is what keeps it all so fascinating.

What are you researching and what excites you about it?

I study the social and mating behaviours of animals. Since natural selection is the outcome of differences in the survival and reproduction of individuals, when I study these questions in wild populations of animals, I feel like I am watching natural selection in action.

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

My research frequently integrates ecology, behaviour, physiology and genetics. My students learn skills that have applied applications, particularly in human and veterinary medicines, as well as the field techniques and skills needed in ecological and conservation research and management.

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

Interestingly, at the undergraduate and graduate levels the workplace is female dominated. However by the time one looks at the academic level, there are usually more males. That sex bias is changing though, as more women are competing successfully for jobs.

How do you foster and encourage diversity in your workplace?

I recruit males and females at all levels of education, as well as minority students and hires.

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

Such support needs to come from all levels of education, reaching back to pre-school. But perhaps the greatest hindrance for any female in academia is balancing family with work responsibilities. Almost all my female colleagues from my generation do not have children. They just didn't have time. I did have children and it was really tough.

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

Be determined. Don't let anyone tell you that it is too hard to be successful.

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

There are a few women in my field that have really been my role models and mentors. Most of them are now retired.