Training and Support for Women in Fisheries Science at the Marine Institute

By Susan Fudge, Centre for Fisheries Ecosystems Research

The Fisheries and Marine Institute (MI) of Memorial University is known around the globe for its world-class training in fisheries, ocean technology, marine safety, marine transportation and beyond.

Over the past decade, the Institute has been gaining recognition for its applied fisheries research.

Fisheries in the Northwest Atlantic are a scientist’s dream to study. From the complex ecosystem, varying oceanographic influences, effects of the warming waters on species assemblages and rich culture and industry connectedness, it is no wonder that local and international academics avail of opportunities to build careers, study and even train at an institute such as MI.


Women in Science

An important group of these professionals and students are women and they become experts in their fields with continued support and advancements in inclusion and diversity policies in the workforce.

MI employs and trains many women in science, engineering, trades and technology (SETT), is involved with outreach programming and is a strong supporter of the Women in Science and Engineering N.L. Student Summer Employment Program (SSEP).

CFER summer student Laura Purchase analyzing cod stomachs in 2015.

This flagship initiative provides female Grade 11 students from across the province with work placements in science and engineering fields. Placements at MI have always been popular within the program as supervisors expose students to as many disciplines, projects and training opportunities as possible during their placement.

“The student summer employment program has really been an exceptional experience for me as it is not just your average summer job. The amazing opportunities to network, gain valuable work experience, learn about the field of science and engineering, and create friendships with other WISE students are just a few of the things I’ve benefited from and enjoyed. The various roles I held during the student summer employment program have positively impacted me and prepared me for the future,” said one SSEP participant, who took on the role of Fisheries Research Assistant during the summer of 2016.


Success Stories

MI’s Centre for Fisheries Ecosystems Research (CFER) is proud of the successes of staff and students and continues to aim to train the next generation of highly qualified personnel in fisheries science. Numerous graduates have gone on to continue their education with full scholarships and others, along with post-doctoral fellows, have secured full-time employment in the top of their fields.

For example, Dr. Anna Olafsdottir is now a fisheries scientist in the pelagic department of the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute in Reykjavik, Iceland. In her position, she is responsible for research and stock assessment of two commercial species —Atlantic mackerel and blue whiting.

Anna graduated in 2013 and began her career as a postdoctoral fellow at the Faroes Marine Research Institute, Torshavn, Faroe Islands. She notes, “the grad school journey at Memorial University and MI was challenging is many ways, particularly as I was alone in a foreign country without English writing skills. A mix of resilience, support and a patient supervisor made for a happy ending.”

Dr. Hannah Murphy is a Research Scientist in the Pelagic Section at Fisheries and Oceans Canada in St. John’s, N.L. Her current research on the recruitment dynamics of capelin, a key forage fish in the Northwest Atlantic marine ecosystem, expands on her postdoctoral work with MI’s CFER. CFER provided vital opportunities to network with industry and government research scientists, which fostered and developed important research collaborations during Hannah’s postdoctoral research fellowship.

“More women are studying science, as was evident in the student body at CFER, but there are still fewer women than men at the research scientist and professor level in both academia and government science. Supportive family-friendly policies, like at CFER, are important for retaining and mentoring women, especially at the early career stage where scientific publications and grants are vitally important for career advancement,” said Dr. Murphy.


Supportive Environment

Working in a supportive environment is a key aspect of professional growth and success.

MI recognizes the value of this by providing a wide range of support to its employees through initiatives like wellness programs and funding for staff professional development.

Kelley Santos, a Research and Grants Officer with MI recently availed of professional development funding that allowed her to participate in the WinSETT (Canadian Centre for Women in Science, Engineering, Trades and Technology) national leadership program — a series of professional development workshops tailored to women working in science and technology based sectors.

Kelley states, “developing leadership, communication and networking skill sets are all key assets that I can bring back to my role at MI that will ultimately help the Institute continue to broaden our research capacity.”

As supportive as MI and Memorial University are in supporting the advancement of women in SETT, research surveys show there is still progress to be made. The Canadian Association of University Teachers continues to report low representation of women in scientist and professor roles within academia.

Susan Fudge aboard the RV Celtic Explorer in 2011.

Statistics Canada reports that women in leadership roles, specifically in top management are underrepresented, and research still shows that women earn on average 20 per cent less than men with equal qualifications in science-related fields. March 8 was International Women’s Day, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Continuing to improve supporting policies, flexible work schedules, inclusion strategies, mentorship programs and professional development funds will be important in supporting the advancement of women in science.

It has been proven that an inclusive and diverse work force is more productive, creative and profitable as diversity brings about new ideas/attitudes and innovation — all of which will be important in supporting the growth and economy (including fisheries) of Newfoundland and Labrador.

To learn more about other successful women at CFER and the team supporting them, visit

For more on MI and the Institute’s research and programs in SETT, visit

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