Blog > STEMStories

#STEMStories: Tara-Lyn, Evolutionary Biologist, Australia

#STEMStories: Tara-Lyn, Evolutionary Biologist, Australia

1. Introduce yourself, who are you what do you do?

I am an evolutionary biologist currently completing a PhD; I work in experimental evolutionary ecology, using fruit flies. That means I design experiments to see how evolution might drive changes we see in flies. Right now, I am giving flies different combinations of diets and monitoring their fitness and the fitness of their offspring.

2. How did you arrive at this career (or point in your life/work)? Was it always something you knew you wanted to do? 

I did not always know. I've had a longer road than most to get to a PhD. While I liked science in school, I didn't go to the most inspiring high school, being from a rural, working class family. I managed to get into a degree in Psychology out of high school, finished it but decided that I didn't want to pursue clinical psychology, as that would be another 3 years doing it tough financially. I went full time at my then job and ended up working for 8 years in the IT service industry. When I left that career I was a Service Centre Manager, but in my spare time I was reading about all things science and volunteering for a conservation organization.

It was then that I decided to take the plunge and go back to university to pursue biology. Along the way to support myself I had several other jobs that afforded me great experience like working at the zoo! I completed a masters degree, and now I'm in my final year of a PhD.

3. What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning, especially on those cold, dark mornings?

The people and the variety! Each day is slightly different, one day will be in the fly lab, the next might be writing or analysing data, the next might be communicating my work to a general audience. Each one of those things provides its own unique challenges, and skill sets. It is also amazing to do these things alongside other passionate people from all around the world who come together to achieve science!

4. What is your personal cure for stress or how do you raise your spirits in times of doubt?

For me, walking in nature is the ultimate cure. At the moment that isn’t really possible, so another good cure is throwing myself into my reading—whether it be fiction or non-fiction. 

5. Who is your role model? If no one, any thoughts on this?

Since coming to Monash, I have met so many great female role models.

This issue a tricky one for women in STEM, actually women in general, as there are actually so many female role models but we often have never heard of them in the general sphere, because unfortunately they tend to receive less attention. My ultimate role model is Julia Gillard, her work with the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership, Beyond Blue, and CamFed is amazing, as was her misogyny speech. She took a lot of crap being our first female PM, but she came out on top.

6. What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time?

Just try more things. I would always think, I won't be picked for this or that, until one day in my late 20s I started thinking "Why not me?". So, Instead of thinking "Why me?”, think "Why not me?!". 

7. Top 3 tips for girls starting out in STEM?

This is a tricky one, I'm not sure I'm qualified to give top tips, but here are my thoughts:

  1. Don't allow society, culture, or individuals tell you who you are or what your strengths are. Girls and women have the capacity to be fantastic in all areas, maths and science included.
  2. Don't be afraid to try different things, girls are often conditioned into being less confident about throwing their hat in the ring, overcome that by trying anyway.
  3. Learn how to assert yourself. As a female in this world you will need to assert yourself in a rational manner all the time. When you are talked over, interrupted, mansplained to, overlooked etc. This is something I am still learning to do effectively. Nevertheless, it is important to stick up for yourself! 

8. How do you measure your success?

Well, in many ways actually. There are a lot of metrics in science and academia by which we can judge ourselves, but unfortunately it often means we compare ourselves to others. There is no happiness to gain from comparison with others, we all do it, but I try very hard not to. Ultimately, I evaluate whether what I am doing is meaningful to me. I feel happy when I feel like I am contributing to the world. I also feel happy when I have balance, doing those things simultaneously is harder than we think! When you can manage to have a meaningful career but also a rich life outside of work, I think that is success. 

9. Where can we find out more about your work?

Still working on my website, but links to papers can be found here:

10. Are you social? Will you share your Twitter handle, or LinkedIn profile, or Facebook so that young women can connect with you?

Absolutely @TaraLynC, and please and I actually mean this, don't hesitate to ask me any questions, because I know a lot of people who have answers. But seriously, happy to help or find someone who can.