Meet Mary Blair: Mentor and BiologistJanuary 11, 2012
After spending a semester meeting and interviewing former AAUW fellows and grantees, I have come to see AAUW awards as opportunities for recipients to develop themselves as women, mentors, and people who are hoping to share their knowledge. 2010–11 American Fellow Mary Blair is the perfect example.
Fascinated with science as a child, Blair continued her passion for biology at Swarthmore College. There, she had the opportunity to get hands-on experience with research. She spent a semester abroad in Costa Rica, where she worked at a primate rescue center conducting behavioral ecology research focusing on the Central American squirrel monkey. These monkeys are vulnerable to extinction, and it was a rare opportunity to do research on the species. Blair is helping to contribute to the fields of biology and evolutionary primatology through her research. Her dissertation, which was partially funded by AAUW, was recently published by the American Journal of Primatology as a featured article.
Blair continues to work with primates, as well as other closely related species, as a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History. Her research focuses on examining the evolution of diversity in slow lorises in Southeast Asia and in lemurs in Madagascar.
Through the Enhancing Diversity in Conservation Science Initiative, Blair hopes to increase the diversity of scientists who become biologists. She researches why certain groups are underrepresented and what can be done to fix this. Blair’s interest in diversity developed in part from her mother’s collegiate experience as one of two math majors at Wilson College. In a recent lecture at her mother’s alma mater, Blair asserted that the female experience in science is an amalgamation of good and disappointing news and that the story is worse for minorities. She believes that the application of techniques that are used to increase women’s participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields can be leveraged to increase the participation of other underrepresented groups. She remains committed to improving the diversity of her field of study, which she says can be a survival-of-the-fittest atmosphere.
Aside from research, Blair is devoted to mentoring. She credits AAUW and her fellowship for allowing her to focus on her dissertation as well as foster a strong relationship with her mentor. Blair’s personal connection to mentoring is rooted in her desire to improve women’s representation in STEM, and she has worked with Women and Girls Advancement at the Association for Women in Science in Washington, D.C., as well as Girl’s Science Day through Women in Science at Columbia University. She also now participates in the American Museum of Natural History’s Association for Women in Science.
As she contemplates the path of her career, Blair is prepared to continue her research and teaching or to work in a nongovernmental organization. Undoubtedly, Blair’s success will continue in either path her career takes, and both give her the opportunity to inspire young girls in STEM.
This post was written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants Intern Elyssa Shildneck.