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Marine Scientist receives Association for Women in the Sciences award

Thursday 10 October 2019 11:16am

Abby-Smith-image
Professor Abby Smith (right) with PhD student Katerina Achilleos.

Marine Science Professor Abby Smith has been named the 2019 recipient of the Miriam Dell Award for Excellence in Science Mentoring.

Professor Smith was selected for the Association for Women in the Sciences (AWIS) award for her work encouraging diversity and inclusiveness over a period of 27 years in the Department of Marine Science at the University of Otago.

"I believe very strongly that everybody deserves a chance to follow their dreams, as too often people are judged by what they are instead of what they can do."

“I believe very strongly that everybody deserves a chance to follow their dreams, as too often people are judged by what they are instead of what they can do,” Professor Smith says.

“As an educator and a scientist, it’s my job to encourage, enable, and include people who want to learn and grow. And of course, when I do, I also learn and grow.”

Over her time in the Department of Marine Science, which included 12 years as the only female academic on staff, Professor Smith has mentored more than 50 postgraduate students, of whom over half were women.

Professor Smith says from an early stage she was driven to advocate for female students as she saw clearly the damaging impacts that resulted from the cultural trait of not putting themselves forward.

“How the female students spoke could ultimately result in lower marks than their male colleagues got, which was clearly inequitable. I ended up talking with students about being positive before they presented their work.”

It was at the AWIS conference in 1996 that Professor Smith recalls being “absolutely gobsmacked” surrounded by hundreds of female scientists, when she was introduced to the concept of family friendly workplaces.

"It’s too common for a scientist to think that her work is all she is. When I introduce myself, I say I am a marine scientist, but am quick to add my personal interests: cricket, singing, knitting, and playing with my sons."

Professor Smith was then instrumental in initiating family friendly guidelines within her Department, which have subsequently been used by several other departments across the University.

“My experience as an academic staff member has been mostly positive. Fantastic colleagues and excellent services like the University’s childcare centres have allowed me to have a career and be a parent.”

Professor Smith says she continues to work to break down barriers around perceptions of scientists’ identity.

“It’s too common for a scientist to think that her work is all she is. When I introduce myself, I say I am a marine scientist, but am quick to add my personal interests: cricket, singing, knitting, and playing with my sons.”

The Miriam Dell Award introduced in 2013 is awarded on a biennial basis, and named for Dame Miriam Dell, Patron of AWIS, botanist, secondary school teacher and advocate for women’s advancement.

Professor Smith is the second recipient from the University of Otago; the first was Dr Roslyn Kemp who received the award in 2015.