“Do what you love and love what you do.”
Nicolette Zahner D’Agostino earned her M.S. in Conservation Ecology in 2014 and is a senior environmental consultant for a private firm.
Tell us a little bit about yourself? What are you passionate about?
I thoroughly enjoy traveling, cooking, painting and exploring nature. I am extremely passionate about the environment and my most favorite topic of such is amphibians (frogs!) and wetland conservation.
What inspired you to pursue a STEM education and career?
I have always been an outdoor person, intrigued by nature and how everything seemed to work perfectly together. I constantly asked questions and wanted to know more. Once I found out about the field of ecology, I thought, why not do what I love and get paid for it? Seemed like a no brainer, win-win for me!
What do think are some of the most shared/common challenges women in STEM fields encounter?
Ecology is still very much a man-dominated field. There have been many times I have gone to field meetings and been the only woman, only to be ignored by the older gentlemen. There have been other times where I have been told that “there were other qualified candidates, but I went with the pretty one”, or where a boss has even opened up a meeting by introducing me as “the pretty one” without ever giving my name.
How have you overcome obstacles/challenges as a woman in STEM?
I study and keep up on current protocols in my field. I make myself known in meetings and attempt to contribute thoughtful, well-educated solutions. I do not acknowledge the sexist comments. It’s not all bad! I have noticed that the younger generations seem to be gender blind, which is a major step in the right direction. I think we as a society are slowly overcoming sexism, it’s just a handful of older generation members that seem to be stuck.
Knowing what you know now, what advice you would give your younger self?
Be prepared to work your tail off. Not only to prove that you are capable regardless of your gender, but also to prove that the environment is important. I would tell my younger self to be prepared to educate the public; the lack of knowledge the general public has on the environment and what causes pollution amazes me and constantly needs to be addressed. There will be days or projects that will seem daunting, but remember that what you do is important and needs to be done!
What one takeaway would you want to impart on a young woman thinking of pursuing an education/career in STEM?
Do it! Do what you love and love what you do. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, especially if it’s due to your gender. It won’t be easy – most likely there will be blood, sweat, and many tears – but it will be worth it.
What is an aspect of being a woman in STEM you were surprised to discover?
That it is still a man-dominated field. I was surprised because the majority of my classmates in the Biology department were women.
In your experience, what are the top things leaders could do to encourage more young women to enter STEM fields?
Allow them to play outside and encourage young children to ask questions and attempt to find the answer out themselves. Encourage their curiosity. Make STEM a priority in the classroom but also make it fun!