“I would rather spend time in the woods than play with dolls.”

Dr. Ann Spellman earned both her bachelor’s and master’s in marine biology from Florida Tech and has spent the last 23 years working up close and personal with dolphins, whales and manatees with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commisssion. She enjoys sharing her experiences and knowledge with others through outreach and education.

“It has been an amazing journey. The next stage in my career will be to impart what I have learned on students interested in following in those footsteps, hopefully encouraging a new generation of female scientists.”

Tell us a little bit about yourself?

I was born on the East Coast and have never lived more than two miles from the ocean. At a very early age I realized that the ocean was something spectacular, and something fragile in need of protection. I always knew I wanted to be one of those people who studied the sea and the strange creatures that lived there, and I was fortunate to become a marine biologist, and land the job of my dreams early on.

What are you passionate about?

Animals and the natural world and learning all that I can about those subjects and educating others. I learned respect for animals and the environment early on from my dad. I’m passionate about protecting and conserving our natural resources by educating others about how magnificent yet fragile our planet truly is.

What inspired you to pursue a STEM education and career?

I had an affinity for the outdoors and everything natural fascinated me, from bugs to bears. I would rather spend time in the woods exploring or along the rocky New England coastline than play with dolls or video games. It seemed only natural to pursue a career that allowed me to study and experience nature up close and personal and make a living at it.

What do think are some of the most shared/common challenges women in STEM fields encounter?

Regardless of gender, job opportunities are extremely limited and highly competitive. Entering what was at one time a predominantly male-dominated field only made competition for jobs even harder. I grew up in a time when women were not seen as smart enough to be scientists and were often overlooked for positions or underrepresented in the field. Finding strong and successful female role models early in my career was a difficult task and required that I follow in footsteps that were few and far between. Often there were no role models to follow and there were more than a few naysayers who made it clear that there were no jobs available and that I would be better off in a more traditional field or role.

How have you overcome obstacles/challenges as a woman in STEM?

I had a wonderful support system with both my parents. That was a big plus, but so too in a way were those who said it could not be done. That just made me want it more. Being assertive and confident are not traits typically instilled in young women. Presenting as a smart and competent individual is often perceived by others as a threat. Often times the biggest threat was to other women, as were some of the biggest obstacles to overcome.

Knowing what you know now, what advice you would give your younger self?

Surround yourself with positive people who genuinely care for and respect you and want to see you succeed.

What one takeaway would you want to impart on a young woman thinking of pursuing an education/career in STEM?

Find women in your field who are successful and can serve as mentors, who are self-made and accomplished, and find out what they had to do get where they are. Then decide if it’s within you to pursue such a goal realizing that anything worth having generally requires commitment and perseverance and a relentlessness to succeed, and that these women did not have this handed to them but worked for it and are deserving of it.

What is an aspect of being a woman in STEM you were surprised to discover?

That females now outnumber males in many of the STEM fields yet not enough see the value in giving back through mentoring the next generation.

In your experience, what are the top things leaders could do to encourage more young women to enter STEM fields?

Create and fund internships in STEM fields to allow young women the chance to experience what a career in these fields entails. Make sure that women get paid in equal wages for equal work and that opportunities are likewise equally available regardless of gender. Remember that you’re sending a message to the next generation by your actions not your words.

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