They’re ambitious, innovative and highly intelligent – and they’re set to soon graduate from their chosen fields of study and launch careers that will inspire and change the world.
In the coming weeks we will profile 16 female graduates to watch in 2014 who are leading the next generation of female talent in science, medicine, law, business and research. They answer our questions on everything from what they hope to achieve in their careers, what inspires them and the challenges they anticipate they will face in their careers.
Today’s graduate to watch is Marine biologist Asha de Vos. de Vos’ passion to protect the threatened population of Indian Ocean blue whales has seen her created into a puppet character for a TED Ed video about the species. Her work has also been featured on documentaries for Channel 7 Australia, BBC and The New York Times. She was a panellist representing the world’s youth at the United Nations Rio+20 Sustainable Development Dialogues and named a Zonta woman of achievement.
What degree are you studying and at which university?
I am currently doing a PhD at the University of Western Australia
When do you plan to finish your studies?
I hope to submit my thesis in mid-August 2013
How old are you?
I am 33 years old
Why did you choose to go into this field?
I wanted to be a marine biologist for as long as I can remember. It was a natural path for me and I think my combined love for water and curiosity for the unknown and what lies beneath led me this way.
What do you want to achieve in your career?
Essentially I want to save the blue whales in the waters around Sri Lanka from their biggest threat, ship strike. I also want to increase awareness around the world about this and other blue whale populations and the threats they face. Finally, I want to use the blue whale as a flagship species for the marine environment and weave science and story together to inspire the next generation of marine biologists and ocean heroes.
What are the biggest challenges you face in trying to reach these goals?
I’ve dealt with a variety of challenges along the way and quite frankly, those that challenge me just spur me on. So I hope they never stop. I’ve come to realize that you cannot make everyone happy, but as long as you are doing something good and have a clear conscience, your work will speak for itself. At the start of my career the two biggest challenges I faced were the fact that I was young and female. Many people questioned why I was not married and didn’t have children. They wanted to know if my parents didn’t mind, and they still ask me that now.
Since people realize I am here to stay, I’d say the biggest challenge is the lack of funds for my research. I spend a lot of time applying for grants and chasing up money so I can run my field seasons and keep the project going. It would be nice not to have to worry about that and be able to invest my energy in expanding and building new collaborations.
Where do you hope to be in 10 years time?
I hope to be closer to my goals of saving the blue whales and drawing more focus on the ocean and its urgent needs. I hope to establish a non-profit research institute in my own country where I can continue my current research but also create collaborations that will allow further ground-breaking research on various aspects of the marine environment and other marine life to occur.
Who do you admire most?
I admire my mum for sacrificing her career and her own dreams to ensure that the rest of our family can live theirs. She taught me the importance of being able to stand on my own two feet, particularly as a woman, and to live as an equal. She taught me that no dream is too big, to remain optimistic and to be grateful for the wonderful everyday things that most take for granted.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
As a kid my dad told me that you could learn something from everyone. It has taught me to remain curious and open-minded no matter whom I am talking to, no matter what their background.