[MARMAM] Unpaid positions in marine mammal science: a response

WIMMS womeninmmsci at gmail.com
Fri Jul 17 15:57:43 PDT 2020

Dear MARMAM community -

We are glad that a long overdue discussion has been initiated about the
prevalence and effect of unpaid positions in marine mammal science.
Clearly, this is a complex and challenging issue that will require input
from people from a variety of backgrounds and career stages to adequately
address the broader impacts of our field’s reliance on unpaid positions.

We support the letter
to the Society for Marine Mammalogy (SMM), drafted by Dr. Eiren Jacobson,
Chloe Malinka, and Dr. Margaret Siple and now signed by almost 700
individuals, that seeks to end unpaid positions as the status quo in our
field. By supporting this letter, we recognize that unpaid positions are
only one factor of many that need consideration in order to improve
diversity, equity, and inclusion in our field. We also recognize that many
of us have been able to advance our careers in marine mammal science as a
result of unpaid positions.

We conducted a survey on gender-specific experiences in marine mammal
science and are actively working to analyze and publish the survey results.
Of the 670 respondents (n=586 female), 549 (82%) indicated participating in
at least one unpaid work experience opportunity (e.g., an internship or
temporary position with a university, non-profit, government agency, or
independent scientist). We will explore in our publication some important
nuances of this participation and specific ways in which respondents
highlighted unpaid work as a barrier to success in marine mammal science,
but this percentage speaks to the high prevalence of unpaid work in our

The aim of changing this as the status quo point of entry into our field is
not to disparage or discount individuals who have benefitted from these
opportunities, but rather to acknowledge, as Dr. Eric Archer eloquently
stated in his response on this thread
<https://lists.uvic.ca/pipermail/marmam/2020-July/012000.html>, “The voices
that we won't hear in this debate are those that didn't have those
opportunities.” We cannot deny that expecting most people to work for free
limits access to our field to those of a certain economic status, which in
the U.S. and many other countries is inextricably tied to race. Even if we
increase much-needed efforts to engage diverse young potential scientists,
we cannot expect to retain them if the only path forward relies on unpaid

We also fully acknowledge that change from the status quo will not happen
instantaneously, and that the role of funding is not trivial. How change
occurs will be very different at a large institution in the U.S. compared
to a small non-profit in a low-income nation. Thus, we will need to come
together as a community to find creative and innovative ways in which we
can collectively increase the accessibility of internships and other work
experience positions and thereby increase diversity, equity, and inclusion
in marine mammal science.

Jacobsen et al. have taken an important step in giving our community an
opportunity to engage more broadly with each other, at a pivotal time, on
the impact of unpaid positions and, in turn, on other barriers to diversity
in our field. If not for this letter to the SMM, it is unlikely that these
conversations would be ongoing at this scale at this time. The women who
drafted this conversation starter are notably early-career researchers,
which makes their willingness to lead this effort especially courageous. We
would like to thank them, the letter cosignatories, and all those willing
to contribute constructively to this most important discussion.


The WIMMS Initiative Organizers

Dr. Erin Ashe

Dr. Amanda Bradford

Dr. María Constanza Marchesi

Cara Gallagher

Natalie Mastick

Dr. Frances Robertson

Dr. Mridula Srinivasan

Dr. Karen Stockin

Women in Marine Mammal Science (WIMMS)
Email: womeninmmsci at gmail.com
Website: https://wimms.weebly.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/womeninmmsci/
Twitter: @womeninmmsci
Hashtag: #womeninmmsci
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