Dr. Rebecca Singer is an associate professor of psychology at Georgetown College. She received her bachelor’s degree from Mary Washington College in Virginia. Between graduation and choosing to go back to graduate school, she worked in Hawaii to pursue her love of marine biology where she could help train dolphins in the University of Hawaii Psychology Animal Lab. After working there for roughly a year and afterwards various animal related jobs, she saw the need to go back to school to obtain her masters and eventually doctorate. While in graduate school at the University of Kentucky, it was brought to her attention that she operated well in the classroom.
“I’m definitely an overachiever, and I only had to take a couple extra classes to become certified as a teacher. I went ahead and did it because at the time it was much easier for me to get a job as a teacher than in my specific research field.” She absolutely loves her job as a professor at Georgetown College because she sees the potential in her students, the many research opportunities and inspiration it has given her, and she hopes to be a positive model to help mold her students into who they are meant to become.
She credits much of her research opportunities to the small campus and large network that Georgetown College has given her, especially a project she recently presented in Chicago with her colleague Dr. Susan Bell.
She also has an ongoing project studying object permanence in various marine mammals, dolphins in particular. This research has been drawing data over the past five years from facilities in the Bahamas, the Netherlands, and Spain.
Although she agrees that more people are needed in the research fields, she says the root of the issue is in a lack of funding. When asked if she thinks more people should pursue a career in research she said, “I think there needs to be more funding first. If we get more people, the already scarce funding becomes even more spread out. I don’t disagree with that statement, but we need more funding to come back for the research which will then allow more people to go into the field.”
Dr. Singer is very aware of the gender bias that occurs in the field. She considers herself very blessed during graduate school because her advisor was a very respected presence in the field, and she was able to graduate with her name on numerous publications. She had the most trouble as the leader for her research abroad. “I was pretty protected because my advisor was such a big name but heard of a lot of problems from other labs. I was made a very wise decision in choosing my advisor…I felt like I had more of a problem in the field than in grad school. There was never an overt sexism; it was more of an element of surprise that I was in charge and people not wanting to listen. But I tried not to let it affect my work. I tried to not let gender differences affect the goal of the research, especially in other countries with different cultures.
“It’s hard being a woman in the field. Men are far more likely to be published. We [women] are less likely to be listened to in committees and our ideas are more likely to be dismissed. Why do I have to defend my research? Why do I have to defend everything because I am a female? It’s hard.”
Her final advice to women in STEM is to have thick skin. “Work the system the best that you can. Do it with integrity, honesty, and persevere. Be open to the unexpected. Just because your original plan doesn’t work out, doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. None of my original plans for my career actually happened, yet I love my job and all that has brought me here.”