NSERC Chair for
Women in Science & Engineering

Mirjana Roksandic

Dr. Mirjana Roksandic

Some problems can be ignored, others cannot.

Professor, Anthropology
University of Winnipeg

Mirjana Roksandic (PhD Simon Fraser University) is a biological anthropologist whose main research topics include Pleistocene hominin evolution in Europe and mortuary ritual among sedentary and semi-sedentary archaeological hunter-gatherers. She has two active international projects: one in Serbia focusing on hominins excavated in Paleolithic caves, and the other in Cuba where she is working on questions of mortuary practice and ritual continuity. Dr. Mirjana Roksandic is recipient of both NSERC and SSHRC grants for the last 10 years.

As an academic, what is your favourite part of your job?
Constant novelty and challenge: in order to research what you want to know you always need to learn something else, something you haven't worked on before, a new concept, a new program, new technology. You can never get complacent.

What are you researching and what excites you about it?

I have two vastly different areas of research: one is human evolution in the Middle Pleistocene of Europe, the other is centered on sedentary hunter-gatherers in the Caribbean. Knowing about past humans gives you a very different perspective on current human condition. The variety of human responses to life challenges and the time depth at which anthropologists look at these phenomena allow you to see both the unique human qualities and the variability inherent in any biological organism. The questions human pondered from the very beginning remain the same.

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

Since our institution offers a B.Sc. in Biological anthropology, the degree provides a flexible background: our students pursue careers in health, conservation, different government agencies. Others pursue post-secondary degrees and remain in academia.

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

Yes and no. At the Departmental level, we have reached a fair representation of women in the field. However, administrative structures beyond the department remain male dominated.

How do you foster and encourage diversity in your workplace?

Over the last five years we have increased the number of female faculty in the Department. Encouraging female colleagues to trust themselves and promote their own achievements as substantial and relevant was the most productive way of supporting them.

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

The ideal is a gender blindness: it should be irrelevant who is doing the research as long as the research is solid. We are still not there and more needs to be done to take women scientists seriously. Since our performance is evaluated on the basis of publications and grants, women need to be more regularly represented on the boards of major journals. Women and man alike need to test their biases before reviewing grants, papers or interviewing candidates for jobs.

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

Some problems can be ignored, others cannot: pick your battles. And do your science like nobody is watching.

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

There were many role models in my life, but one stands out in my field: Dr. Mary Jackes is an unconventional thinker who combines novel and daring large ideas with meticulous, detailed examination of facts. She is also the most generous colleague and mentor.