Researcher shares insight for women in scientific careers

Veteran researcher Mirjam A. F. Ros-Tonen shares advice for younger women in science
Mirjam Ros-Tonen (right, seated) conducts field research in Ghana.

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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.

Mirjam A. F. Ros-Tonen is a recently retired associate professor at the Department of Human Geography, Planning & International Development Studies at the University of Amsterdam. The geographical focus of her research is on Ghana, South Africa, Zambia, and Indonesia, but her PhD supervision has also included research in Cameroon, Kenya and Honduras.

She told Forests News:

“I wonder if I am a scientist by nature. As a child, documentaries depicting famine and poverty in ‘developing countries’ sparked a desire to make a difference once I grew up. However, my mum was quick to say working in far-away places was not something for women to aspire to. My grandma suggested I could realise my ambition by becoming a missionary sister. Instead, I realized that pursuing a research master’s in human geography would bring me to the global South without committing to a religious vocation.

After graduation, I embraced the opportunity to conduct research in a Dutch immigrant settlement in southern Brazil—a gated community where many spoke Dutch only, even decades after emigration. Therefore, I wanted to return after that year to get to know the ‘real Brazil’. I embarked on a PhD journey, examining the intricacies of the Amazonian timber industry.

Following my academic pursuits, I became a coordinator of non-timber forest product research. However, the call of another passion, writing, led me to quit my job and become a self-employed science- and ghost-writer. A great way to combine motherhood and work! Eventually, the allure of research pulled me back into academia, where I climbed to associate professor. I combined my passion for research and writing by guiding PhD candidates and helping them disseminate their work. Witnessing their growth and accomplishments brings me immense pride. 

I recently retired, but I remain actively engaged in supervising PhD and MSc theses and writing on landscape governance, knowledge co-production, and, more recently, urban green spaces. Reflecting on my experiences, my advice to younger women aspiring to an academic career in science is simple: follow your passion, seize every opportunity that comes your way, and, if necessary, create them yourself!”


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 J.Reed@cifor-icraf.org.

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