Dr. Wendy Strangman received her Ph.D. in Oceanography from Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, specializing in marine natural products chemistry. She began her career at the University of British Columbia (Vancouver), working in the Earth and Ocean Sciences Department with natural products chemistry, purifications, bioactive molecules, structure elucidation, and organic synthesis. She grew up watching Jacques Cousteau and National Geographic and in high school, she decided she wanted to pursue an education as a Marine Biologist. Since the shows she grew up watching took place at Scripps, she planned to attend UC-San Diego for her undergraduate degree and apply for a job with Scripps. That way she could have a foot in the door for graduate school. However, she did have to convince her parents to let her attend school in California, since she grew up in Arizona. Initially wanting to work with whales and dolphins, she changed her mind after interacting with others in that particular field. She opted to begin working with the CalSpace program (and NASA) designing a science-based educational website. When discussing her dreams and goals with a faculty leader, it was suggested she speak with Dr. Faulkner, as his specialty was marine biology. From there, the rest is history – she researched him via his website, where his “Drugs of the Sea” research captivated her. Who wouldn’t be interested in studying the purification of molecules and the killing of cancer cells by sponges?
Before college, in junior high, she was in a MAGNET program – once you were in the program, you could choose what high school you wanted to go to and there was a particular school offering International Baccalaureate (IB) courses. When she spoke to someone about it, saying she wanted to go into science, she was told that most girls don’t do well in math and science – she instead chose an International Studies school where they offered 8 foreign languages. When you chose a language you also got to go abroad to that country, she chose Japan. Other than that experience, she has not noticed any gender issues with her education – all the places she’s traveled have been very positive about women. In college, most of her mentors were male but her peers in the lab were predominately female – showing that her mentors were motivated to bring women into the field. Her mentors benefited her tremendously as a student and Dr. Strangman said she would not be where she is today with them. Mentorship allowed her to understand the protocols and “voo-doo science” behind the protocols in addition to providing her with networking opportunities that are crucial to development.
As for the gender gap, Dr. Strangman knows it’s there, but she believes it’s changed so much over time. “Women in STEM are smart and strong”, Strangman says, “and as long as you work hard and prove the scientific evidence then there’s nothing that should ever keep you from progressing and moving forward. You can also have a life outside of STEM – you can be a mom and do other things. Don’t be afraid that maternity leave will disrupt your job, it will be there when you come back. Let life progress naturally, don’t try and force things”.
Dr. Strangman currently has mentees of her own, helping design and conduct experiments and explaining the “voo-doo science” to future generations. The most rewarding part of her job is to be able to teach them what she knows and help them grow into scientists. Thanks to her networking, it also allows her to recommend students to peers in her field for further education or career opportunities. Dr. Strangman enjoys skiing and rock climbing, which she also did while working at the University of British Columbia.