Olivia Lee



I’m a Research Assistant Professor working on the effects of sea ice change on Arctic pinnipeds. I’m a mother to a 3-year-old and I’m also interested in exploring policies to support sustainable infrastructure development in the Arctic.

Twitter: @seaice14
Instagram: @liv.meiling


“The bias against women in science is always there even if it isn’t in your face directly.”

Parenting was not on my agenda. My husband and I had been parents of two rescued dogs for 8 years before my son was born, and it had been an adventure in redefining priorities. I grew up in urban jungles in Asia, but through inspiring documentaries and books I knew there was a place for me in locations wild and remote. An academic-focused upbringing and an incredibly supportive family allowed me to complete my BA and PhD degrees in the USA in marine science and wildlife biology. I worked on Marine Policy issues in Washington DC for almost 2 years, and did odd jobs before starting a post-doc. I eventually got promoted to assistant professor after several successful grants as PI.

Getting pregnant at 33 didn’t make me more prepared to balance work and motherhood. Finding a female mentor in the Geophysical Institute was a challenge since most of my peers were men.

Everybody was kind to me in my department, particularly my supervisor who did everything he could to make sure I felt supported. However, I was lucky because I had enough sick leave saved to be able to go on paid maternity leave for 9 weeks.

That said, I was still on a work call to finish up a proposal the day after I was due to give birth. There’s something about being so entrained in the working-all-the-time academic culture that is difficult to put aside. While most of my in-person interactions were great, I would occasionally hear back from colleagues that others were doubting my future dedication to work.

The bias against women in science is always there even if it isn’t in your face directly. Between the age of 0 and two years, my son flew with me for work across the country. When possible, my husband would travel with me which was great – but other times my son would just tag along. My son attended conferences where he'd crawl at the back of the room, and occasionally he’d cry and interrupt my outreach talks.

Unlike the ivory tower of academia, students ALWAYS gravitated towards me as a mother. I was a scientist, but also just a ‘normal’ person with a baby.

I met some great people, many of whom had kids of their own - people who understood how much a helping hand with a bulky poster and car seat was appreciated, or spared a word of encouragement to a new mom. I'm grateful for friends who shared resources on childcare while still doing science. We need smart, dedicated people in science always, and having children doesn’t change that.

I've lately seen a lot of very intelligent, dedicated, and highly educated women decide to find alternate careers outside of academia and thrive. This is wonderful - but at the same time, it would be great to see a culture shift from within academia with access to strong female mentors in addition to supportive men, because there are some things that even the most supportive male mentors will just not think about.

catarina moreno