Most disciplines in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) suffer from a gender gap, with more men than women achieving the highest-ranking positions. This phenomenon is no different in ornithology, the study of birds. Recently, the Audubon Society, a leading organization devoted to the protection of birds and bird habitats, published a series of articles highlighting the gender imbalance in this field.
However, many women have had distinguished careers and achievements in ornithology. In fact, seven women have been awarded lifetime achievement awards by the American Ornithological Society (AOS) over the past 25 years. Although 20 men have won this award in that time, these women can serve as role models to current and future female ornithologists.
The Loye and Alden Miller Research Award
The Loye and Alden Miller Research Award is a lifetime achievement award given by the AOS. First presented in 1993, it is one of many awards given by the society, which also grants awards for outstanding research and service in the field of ornithology, as well as prizes for both early-career ornithologists and students. The Miller Award is unique among AOS honors because it recognizes a lifetime of dedication to the study of birds. The award is named for a father and son who were both professors of avian biology.
Barbara B. DeWolfe lived from 1912 to 2008, and she earned her PhD from UC Berkeley in 1939. Her career is notable because she became a scientist at a time when academic positions were largely closed off to women. Nevertheless, during her career, she published close to 30 research papers focused primarily on the migration, breeding, and song of the white-crowned sparrow. She held academic appointments at Placer Junior College, UC Davis, Smith College, and Santa Barbara State College, which became UC Santa Barbara, where she rose to the rank of associate dean before retiring in 1977.
B. Rosemary Grant received the award along with her husband, Peter Grant, making her a recipient of the only jointly granted Miller Award. Currently, she is an emeritus senior research biologist at Princeton University, studying the role of natural selection in evolutionary changes to Darwin’s finches. Grant earned her PhD in 1985 from Uppsala University in Sweden and has since been at Princeton University with visiting appointments at the University of Zurich, Yale University, Darwin University, and the University of Miami.
Frances C. James, currently an emeritus professor at Florida State University, received her PhD from the University of Arkansas in 1970. She is noted for her research suggesting that physical size variations among species are caused by genetics and physiological adaptations related to both moisture and temperature. She has additionally applied statistical analysis to ornithology. A long-term interdisciplinary study of the Apalachicola National Forest after a prescribed burn involved a research team under her leadership that focused on the red-bellied woodpecker and the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.
Susan Haig earned her PhD in 1987 from the University of North Dakota and is currently associated with Oregon State University. She is also an emeritus scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey. Dr. Haig is known for her work with the Migratory Connectivity Project, a Smithsonian Institution-affiliated consortium of research scientists interested in conserving migratory wildlife habitats. Her research focuses on avian population genetics, the processes that affect the extinction of small populations, shorebirds, and wetland ecologies. She has more than 100 publications to her name.
Ellen Ketterson is a distinguished professor of biology at Indiana University, Bloomington, where she earned her PhD in 1974. Much of her research concerns the dark-eyed junco, particularly the migration patterns of these birds and the role of hormones in their natural selection and evolution. More than 10,000 dark-eyed juncos have been counted as part of her census-keeping efforts at Mountain Lake Biological Station in Pembroke, Virginia. Dr. Ketterson also is the executive producer of a documentary film for both public and academic audiences: The Ordinary Extraordinary Junco, which seeks to educate audiences about the fascinating biological processes at work in their own backyards.
Carol Vleck is an emeritus professor at Iowa State University, where she maintains an active research agenda. She received her PhD from UCLA in 1978 and held academic appointments at the University of Washington, SUNY Buffalo, the University of Adelaide, and the University of Arizona before joining Iowa State University in 1994. Her most recent research has explored the aging processes, oxidative stress, and incubation processes of birds. Over the course of her career, she has published more than 60 peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals.
Janis Dickinson is an emeritus professor at the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, which she joined in 2005 as director of citizen science. Dr. Dickinson earned her PhD in 1987 from Cornell, after which she held positions at Arizona State University, University of Cambridge, UC Berkeley, and the University of Helsinki before coming to Cornell. Her primary research focus is on avian conservation and citizen science, particularly the ways in which climate change affects bird migration patterns and evolution, especially western bluebirds.