Conservation biologist Amy Dickman had built her career around remote fieldwork in Namibia and Tanzania — extended trips that included close run-ins with wild animals. She had encountered venomous cobras in toilets and bread bins. She had been charged by elephants. And she had been attacked by a cheetah. During her first expedition to Tanzania in 2004, a lion sniffed at her tent and eventually fell asleep on top of it, trapping her arm beneath its body.
The likelihood of such events — both thrilling and terrifying — was high in her work, which aimed to reduce conflicts between humans and carnivores. So when Dickman learnt in 2013 that she was pregnant, it felt at first as if she might be risking a huge career setback.
Equally disquieting, she says, was the new equation she faced when making decisions about risks: she was now carrying a tiny person that could not offer its own consent to being plunged into dangerous situations.
As academic researchers worldwide struggle with a model that places increasing importance on every publication, grant and keynote talk, many female researchers whose careers hinge on remote or challenging fieldwork agonize over the idea of getting pregnant. They wonder whether they can continue to travel into the field to dig for fossils or scuba dive for data, and whether they will need to change or curtail the type of research they do.