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Tales of an ambitious woman scientist

22 de Mayo de 2017
Compartimos en este post el testimonio de Deborah Pardo, que participó en 2016 en el proyecto Homeward Bound, una expedición a la Antártida en la participaron 76 mujeres científicas, con el objetivo de cambiar el papel de la mujer en la ciencia y reivindicar su liderazgo.

En 2018 habrá una nueva expedición, que contará con la participación de dos españolas. Mientras, compartimos la vivencia de esta científica especializada en demografía y evolución de la ecología.

Before, applying to Homeward Bound I was a determined post-doc research associate trying very hard to get the most and highest level publications possible to carve a spot in the academic world. I was getting exhausted by how difficult it was to combine this pace of work with my personal life. My lifestyle was becoming quite unhealthy and unhappy; my partner was depressed from following me abroad; missing our family and friends who did not really understand why we were leaving Southern France. But I could not let go, I had worked so much and quite successfully so far to get to work with some of the best datasets in the world on one of the most iconic and endangered bird families – the albatrosses – in one of the most renowned places in the world – Cambridge UK –; as a population biologist I couldn’t dream better.

Then two things happened: I became pregnant (super scary but super happy) and I supervised a brilliant PhD student from Australia. The former taught me how let go of work (did not really have the choice) and the second one taught me I could be a great leader (something I never really aspired to before). One day, I was running mathematical models to estimate rates of declines in albatross populations with my student while breastfeeding and she told me: “Look at you! You should really apply to this international leadership training for women scientists, and you get to go to Antarctica”. So because I am always up for a challenge, I did, with this YouTube video and guess what? I got selected! I was the only French amongst 78 super qualified, ambitious and determined women scientists from 16 different countries to take part in this year long online training that culminated with 3 weeks together on board an ice-breaking ship in the Antarctic Peninsula in December 2016. That was the biggest ever all women Antarctic expedition.

Photo: Me working in a black-browed albatross colony in New Island, Falklands. Copyright Deborah Pardo

There are 3 main points I wanted to share with you about what happened to me during this year that I call now my metamorphosis (I am still in the cocoon, but almost ready to come out).

1.We can do so much more than we think…

Because the cost of the training and the trip was not covered by the organisers, we all had to raise 20,000 USD, yep that is a lot of money. So to make it happen you have to think hard and get out of your comfort zone. I went through several phases I summarise in my first YouTube video (because yes I launched a channel to thank my sponsors and help other HB women in the future), from terrified to guilty at first, then I read a lot and launched my first crowdfunding campaign while getting involved with a lot of groups and events. And it worked! So I gained confidence and I started pitching to bigger funders at bigger events and it worked! The media got involved and I am now an expert for radio, newspaper and even TV interviews. I started getting involved in schools with several educational programs to make kids think of ways to save the planet while they followed our adventures, and they absolutely loved it. The best part is that I loved doing all that! So much that I realised I could actually try and bridge science with the rest of the world (corporate, general public, kids and even politicians) by doing positive, solution and science based communication.
Have a look at this CNN news article about us.

2.Knowing yourself is key to a fulfilling life and career.

We followed 3 kinds of trainings: leadership, strategy and visibility. The basis for all of these trainings and the group projects ongoing during the year was actually to know ourselves. We conducted 4 big tests discuss with coaches what it meant, shared our learning with other participants and learn the tools to improve ourselves (they are all explained in my second YouTube video):

– A personality test, that tells us how constructive we are according to people and tasks, and how we lose energy and time by being too passive-defensive or aggressive-defensive.
– An emotional intelligence test, showing us how efficient we are at recognising, using, and managing emotions in ourselves and others.
– A learning style test, teaching us how to cover all kinds of learning preferences in order for our lectures, conferences or discussions to be memorable and understood by all.
– A value exercise with a 100 value cards (for instance justice, freedom, enthusiasm, joy…) that you spread around you then pick and organise your top ten professional values to reflect on which behaviours go against or in the direction of your values.

The sum of these 4 super powerful tests, the isolation of the ship, the powerful group of dedicated women, and the incredible beauty of Antarctica was just incredible. Now I can say that I know myself, my strong points, my flaws, where they come from, I accept them and I work to improve them with the tools we trained on. I realised my purpose changed during that year. From a very early age I wanted to save endangered animals from extinction and I managed to get to this position, but now I realise as the world gets more critically into global changes that I want to play it even bigger by inspiring people to take care of the planet.

Photo: Gentoo penguins in front of the ice shelf at Port Lockroy. Copyright Deborah Pardo

3.A revolution has started: Collaborative, kind, evidence-based and led by women

In this adventure, we all had the same purpose of making the world a better place, shaped in slightly different ways by our values. It was very empowering to belong to a group that has the energy to achieve effective change, the scientific skills to make critical and evidence-based decisions, the leadership training to do it in a collaborative manner and the ambition to grow into a 1000 strong network over the next 9 years. I had never considered myself as a feminist but when you start to notice the substantial and unfair under-representation of women in most decision making positions in parallel to the state of the planet, societies, the economy driven by overconsumption and led by a failed leadership and media based on competition, you cannot help but thinking women could bring a fresh prospect into that. I am really starting to believe in this as I learned about some statistics showing women leaders are more collaborative, more inclusive, have a stronger legacy mindset but also discovering that all around the world women are more impacted by climate change and more proactive against it by nature. It has also been shown that girl education, women empowerment and family planning are some of the most efficient measures to counter climate change and overpopulation while ensuring more and more people express their full potential to contribute to solutions for a better world. I am proud to have been part of the pioneers participating to the Homeward Bound program. Now we helped select the second group of women from even more places of the world, our family and impact is growing and I invite you to join us by having a look here.

Watch the emotional movie by Heidi Steltzer that summarises our voyage.

Compartimos una Galería Fotográfica (c) Deborah Pardo, sobre su experiencia en la Antártida.



Deborah Pardo
Passionate scientist with 7 years international experience in developing demographic models to understand the causes and consequences of endangered species’ population declines linked with human actions (e.g. climate change, fisheries, introduced species, pollution). Juggling with complex information to have a positive impact on the environment drives my efficiency especially when fuelled by a dynamic collaborative team. Awarded speaker, encouraging and supportive teacher and supervisor, ambitious motivator, inspiring people and organisations to progress and achieve their best. Her enrolment with a decade long global women in science leadership training allows her to be constructive out of my comfort zone, build on collective intelligence and successfully combine a promising academic profile with a resourceful interdisciplinary expertise and contagious enthusiasm.