Advice From a Female Scientist: Follow Your Dreams

Donna Ball
Donna Ball inspires us all as Save The Bay’s Habitat Restoration Director.

I grew up in an era when a college degree was considered a luxury and not a necessity for women and when it was just becoming acceptable for women to pursue careers in ‘male-dominated’ positions that required math and science. For example, my father refused to pay for a college education because I would ‘just get married and have a family anyway’ indicating that upper-level education for women was a poor investment.

I fulfilled the prophecy of getting married and having a family but always longed to go to college. When I was in my early 40’s and my children were in high school I met with a college guidance counselor who recommended that I pursue a secretarial degree, an acceptable profession for a middle-aged woman. I had been out of school for over 20 years and it was intimidating to challenge him. Fortunately, I needed to take a remedial math class before I could take the entry-level math courses and I loved it. In fact, as I moved through college I found that I excelled in math and science courses. I became a little more forceful and determined and changed my major to Environmental Science in which I subsequently focused on studying estuaries and salt marshes and earned both Bachelors and Masters Degrees, finishing at the age of 48.

Now, as a female science professional I love to mentor both young women and men and nothing excites me more than to see them challenge themselves and excel. At Save The Bay, I work with a team of young, strong scientists (both male and female) and I am proud of the work that they are doing to bring the science of tidal marsh restoration ecology and knowledge of San Francisco Bay to over 2,000 5th – 12th grade students annually who attend our education programs.

For those and all other students out there, to my staff, and to anyone out there interested in pursuing math and science careers (or anything you are passionate about) for that matter, I have the following advice:

Whether you are male or female, young or old, you must diligently chase your dreams. You must never give up on challenging yourself and being open to pursuing new dreams or changing directions. Identify and surround yourself with people who can help you succeed and who can push and encourage you. You must be persistent, curious, willing to work very hard, and stubborn enough not to be deterred despite any challenges that come your way – and you must believe in yourself when others do not. The road will definitely not be easy but the adventure and satisfaction of following your passion will be rewarding.

Donna continues to share her passion with Save The Bay staff, volunteers, and students. Watch this video of Donna talking about her career with the Girl Scouts: