Role models key for women in scientific careers

COLANDS researcher Malaika Yanou on role models and her science career
Malaika Yanou (left) with other COLANDS team members. Photo by COLANDS

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Curious to know what it’s like to bring a baby to remote areas while Mom conducts research? How can a female scientist succeed in a male-dominated society? How a woman stays safe during field work? In a series of five blog posts to mark International Women’s Day 2024 on 8 March, five women scientists-researchers working with the COLANDS initiative – Collaborating to Operationalise Landscape Approaches for Nature, Development and Sustainability – answer these and many other questions about working as researchers and academics. Their responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Malaika Yanou is a PhD candidate at the University of Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR). Her research focuses on how local knowledge and practises have been integrated into policies and other knowledge systems in Zambia. Malaika recently began post-doctoral work at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden on ongoing supply-chain interventions for halting deforestation in Cameroon, Brazil, and Indonesia.

She told Forests News:

“Since childhood, I have wanted to help to change the world, but it took some time to find the right path. Through work with CIFOR, I became aware of the creative side of research and how it gave me tools for emotional and intellectual exploration. That fit with my interest in digging deep into social dynamics, particularly with Indigenous people and communities that rely profoundly on their relationship with nature.

I’m also interested in issues around identity, which is a very delicate subject. Preconceptions of someone’s culture, especially a mixed culture, leads to a shallow conception of the other person and her experiences. As a Cameroonian-Italian, I have always struggled to help others understand my identity. But in research, having such a diverse cultural background has provided me with a broad perspective when I am in the field and surrounded by different stories, cultures, visions, and ideas.

I’ve found role models all around me, borrowing from everyone I respect – from my peers to my mother and my grandmothers: self-made women that in their own ways challenged their times and social expectations in order to be themselves. Later, I found a mentor in my initial supervisor at CIFOR,  the first person who I felt really believed in me and in my ideas, always challenging me to do better, but not judging when I made mistakes. He encouraged me to not fear demonstrating my own intellectual independence.

My advice to young women interested in science and research is to keep searching and pushing, and above all, don’t let people define you based on the questions you ask. Allow yourself to make mistakes; something amazing will emerge.”


COLANDS is part of the International Climate Initiative (IKI) and is funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU). PhD research that is part of COLANDS is hosted at the Institute for Social Science Research of the University of Amsterdam and the University of British Columbia. 

For more information about COLANDS work, please contact James Reed at


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