By Kenedy Williams, Staff Writer
Being a woman in science “has been challenging, rewarding, frustrating, elating, it’s both ends of the extreme.”
That may be said by any number of women who work in scientific fields, and Julie Schram, UAS Assistant Professor of Marine Biology, said it is certainly true for her.
Schram has been teaching upper-division biology courses at UAS since Spring 2021. She is grateful for all the mentors she has had, especially her female mentors. Her first research opportunity was in Antarctica, hired by one of her female mentors.
“I really appreciate the chances that my female mentors have given me,” Schram said. “They have all given me opportunities and there are times I don’t know why. Why me? Why did I get these opportunities?”
After earning a Bachelor of Science from Western Washington University, Schram worked as a deckhand on old tall ships in Antarctica and as a lab tech. That’s where she met her mentor for graduate school. Her M.S. and Ph.D in biology come from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she studied the effect of ocean acidification on sea star regeneration, and investigated the effects of climate change on benthic marine communities in Antarctica.
Now she is working with EPSCoR, the National Science Foundation’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research Fire and Ice project, which allows her to mentor students. Fire and Ice is a five-year, $20 million project to fund research looking at the changes of Alaska’s boreal forests and oceans. The research is focused on glacial gradients – watersheds that have no glacial coverage to those that are more highly glacierized. The gradient is used as a space for time substitution; that is, substituting differences over space to project what it might look like as the glacier recedes. Several UAS students are working with her on a variety of Fire and Ice research activities.
“I love my students, they are really great, and I am so proud of them,” Schram said.
Throughout her research, Schram has focused on ecophysiology, in which she studies the relationship between an organism’s physiology and the environment. She is particularly interested in the intersection between primary producers and primary consumers, one of the reasons she wanted to go to graduate school.
“I am a curious person. I like going out and asking why this is like this? What is this weird thing? And then having the opportunity and privilege to ask those questions and figure out the answers,” Schram said.
Being a woman has definitely provided Schram with a different experience in the field of science, she said. Her experiences, even if they were negative at the time, gave her the ability to learn and better navigate future obstacles, which she described as giving her a leg up over her male colleagues.
Would her experience have been different if she were a man?
“For sure, unfortunately. I don’t know if it’s for better or worse. I don’t know if different is good,” she said.
But, she said, different perspectives in science are important.
“I think we get to ask more interesting and important questions when we have more diverse voices in the room, because everybody has different experiences with the world and sees things differently, “ Schram said. “It’s really important to have all of those perspectives to make sure we are asking the right questions.”