Winner of the Australian Government Endeavour scholarship Janice Vaz spent her childhood watching nature documentaries, and now as a wildlife biologist her 9-5 life basically is one. Just with a little more lion poop …
How did you get into wildlife biology – was there loads of study involved?
“Yep, and I did most of it in my hometown – Mumbai, India! I originally took up Zoology and Botany so I could learn about animals and plants, but after interning at a private vet clinic [in India] I realised that I didn’t just want to work with sick or injured animals. I decided I was more interested in studying animal behaviours, completed a masters in Wildlife Biology, applied for a doctorate degree and landed the Australian Government Endeavour scholarship which led me to come here to study.”
Were you always a fan of STEM subjects at high school?
“Yep! I fell in love with STEM subjects and I I’ve always liked the career opportunities they’ve presented. I spent most of my childhood watching shows on the Discovery Channel and National Geographic, so Biology has always been my favourite science.”
Moving from India to Australia must have been huge. What kind of research are you working on here?
“Big cat personalities! Many lions, tigers and leopards have been brought up or bred in captivity, and so my research looks at their behaviour under stress in order to improve their welfare. Some of the techniques I’m researching will be used in real rescue operations which will improve human-animal relationships and spread awareness about big cat welfare.”
What does an average work day look like for you?
“Every day is different! One day I might spend time collecting data and observing a lion’s behaviour. Another I might be in the lab – in my white coat – studying a big cat’s poop. I also work at a desk sometimes writing up my results and findings.”
Have you got a STEM Yoda – someone you really look up to in the industry?
“I’ve always had excellent mentors, and my current PhD team are great! All of the pets I’ve had in the past have almost acted as mentors too, as they’ve helped me understand animals better.”
What’s the coolest part about your job?
“I get to work with big cats! They all have such unique personalities!”
What do you do when you’re not working?
“I usually end up drawing or painting animals [laughs]!”
How different is the reality of working in STEM to the stereotype – that it’s all men in white lab coats with crazy hair?
“There’s been a huge shift! Gone are the days when science was only taken up to be a doctor or an engineer. Watching women in STEM inspires me! I do believe we have special qualities and talents that can be used to educate others.”
Any tips for others keen to land a similar gig to yours?
“Find your passion! Keep trying different options until you find it. Talk to others and get hands on experience which will help you realise what you do and don’t like about a particular career. Keep moving in the direction of what you love!”
Author: Cassie Steel
As Refraction’s digital assistant, Cassie Steel spends her days researching robots and stalking famous scientists on Twitter.