Keep making mistakes and keep learning from them
Originally from the island state of Trinidad and Tobago in the West Indies, Priya Pollard was a professional ballet teacher and a competitive ballroom and Latin dancer for most of her life. She now researches seaweed in Ireland at Bantry Marine Research Station as part of the project AgRefine, where she is an Early Stage Researcher and MSCA fellow as a PhD student at University College Dublin.
Many women are faced with the ultimatum of choosing between a family and a career. This pressure needs to be broken.
At what point in life did you realise that you wanted to become a researcher? What sparked your interest in your specific area of research?
My research curiosity developed during my undergraduate studies at the University of the West Indies, where I always had another question. I learned the impact that scientific research could have on a country and the world! This drove me towards doing a Masters at The University of Trinidad and Tobago. Here I was able to do applicable research on Sargassum seaweed, which is currently plaguing some parts of the world.
As a female researcher, what are the particular challenges you have faced in your career?
I often feel ignored or not taken seriously in meetings and other work interactions. Women are often underrepresented in these situations and being a petite woman of colour does me no favours. When I moved to Europe for my PhD and immersed myself in the academic world, I thought that I would face less stigmas associated with gender and race but I was very wrong. Every day I face these challenges and try to educate others about it, in the hope that one day there will be less of these biases.
How has the MSCA helped you advance your career?
MSCA gave me the opportunity to pursue my graduate studies regardless of where I was born and my social status. PhD funding for international students like myself was very limited, and those available did not provide enough to cover all expenses. This meant that unless the international student came from a very wealthy background, they would not be able to afford the PhD, even with the scholarship.
Data shows that in the EU women represent 48% of doctoral graduates - but only one third of researchers are women. Women remain under-represented in technical positions and at the higher levels of the academic ladder. As visionaries and innovators, how can these women unlock their full potential?
Many women are faced with the ultimate choice between a family and a career. This pressure not only comes from home, but also work and society as a whole. I believe that it is this pressure that forces many women to shy away from these high positions. If you believe that female doctoral graduates would not feel this pressure because of their education level, you are very wrong. The pressure that is placed on we, women, to make this choice one way or the other needs to be broken.
Stay curious, keep thinking outside the box and that it is okay if people laugh. Keep making mistakes and keep learning from them.
If you met yourself as a youth, what would you say to encourage your younger self to become a researcher?
I would tell younger Priya to stay true to herself and her personality - to stay curious, keep thinking outside the box and that it is okay if people laugh. Keep making mistakes and keep learning from them. You are not defined by your skin colour, be proud of who you are and where you come from and that it is okay to be different. Do not worry about not fitting in with the crowd.