Meet Morgane Merien, an entomologist working on the various reproductive modes of stick insects!

What is your scientific background?

I have a Bachelor of Science with majors in Biological Science and Biological Anthropology. I am currently doing my Honours in entomology, looking at the different reproductive modes in stick insects! I am hoping to go on to do a Ph.D. next year, hopefully in the same are but maybe on a different invertebrate taxon.

Morgane the lab, about to give water to the captive population of stick insects./Morgane Merien

Why did you choose to become a scientist and how did you choose your field of study?

I have always been a curious child. You can ask anyone; I’ve always been the kid with the questions. My whole life, I’ve been incredibly lucky to live in wild and unique places where nature is very prominent. New Caledonia, where I’m originally from holds many fond memories for me, especially of the blue lagoon and mountains there. French Guyana showed me the wonders of the rainforest with its howler monkeys, alligators, and tarantula spiders. New Zealand is where I am currently based and where I have spent the last 10 years of my life. This place is so incredibly diverse and unique in its flora and fauna that it’s hard not to feel inspired! I have always been around nature and biology seemed like such a logical choice to pursue. But I will admit, I was very torn towards the end of high school on whether to pursue biological science or creative arts at University. I enjoyed both of these subjects equally! I chose to continue with biological science because I had great teachers in my last two years of high school, and I especially achieved high grades in biology my last year. However, university was a whole different kettle of fish for me! I felt quite overwhelmed during my first semester. So many different faces, and on such a huge campus! It can be hard to make lasting connections, and easy to get lost in the fray. I think that this is a sentiment felt by most people. I decided to double major in Biological science and Biological anthropology, not really knowing what I wanted to do with it. It took me until my third year, where I did a paper on entomology- the study of insects- that I knew that’s what I wanted to continue in. Entomology made sense, it put all the evolutionary theories I had learned in context. Not only that, Entomology showed me that there is still so much to discover and learn about, and that is exciting to me! I think it takes time to find what you want to do. But great teachers and taking opportunities definitely play a part in all that!

Morgane, about 7 years old, in the jungle of French Guyana./ Morgane Merien

What are the hardest parts related to this work?

The hardest part has been the time management. You have all these deadlines and time which you need to organise accordingly. There eventually comes a week where you realise you have left too many things to the last minutes, and that’s when you really need to put in the hours! That’s alright for me at the moment, because I don’t have anyone depending on me, but it’s definitely something that I’m working on and become better at.

Did you ever doubt your abilities as a scientist? Why? How did you handle these situations/feelings?

I think everyone doubts at some point. I certainly did, and still do sometimes. There’s this feeling called imposter syndrome where you constantly feel that you’re faking your way through your career, and someone is eventually going to ‘unmask’ you as a fraud. Coming out of high school where I had done fairly well, and going into my first year of university was a wake-up call. That year seriously made me doubt my abilities and what I wanted to do with my life, as I got some really mediocre grades. I was able to get through it mainly because of the support of my parents and friends. They pushed me to continue what I had started and to not give up. I completely changed how I had been studying and changed my whole work ethic. Nowadays when I doubt my abilities, I look back on what I’ve been through and what I have achieved, and push through until I stop feeling that way.

Morgane, 10 years old, kayaking at a friend’s beach in Puen, New Caledonia./ Morgane Merien

Do you come from an academic family?

My parents are both biologists. My father teaches immunology at another university, and my mother works for the government as a microbiologist. Their support throughout my life has been invaluable and I would not be able to do what I’m doing if it wasn’t for them. Interestingly, every time people find out both my parents are academics they think that they must be the reason why I pursued science. But actually, I almost wanted to not study biology because of that connection! I made the choice to continue with biology because I loved it, I was good at it and I saw many future opportunities for myself in it. However, support is important. And I’ve been incredibly lucky to have parents and a brother who support me and love me no matter what I do.

What kind of prejudices, if any, did you have to face? How did that make you feel? Where you able to overcome these?

I think the most prejudice I have ever faced has been people’s perception that I am doing an ‘easy’ science. The feminine science. And people tend to dismiss you if you don’t look their idea of a typical scientist, which I guess to be an old white man with a beard. These prejudices can be overcome by quickly shutting down people that doubt you. However, I do realise that compared to other women, I am privileged. I am a straight, white and middle-class woman, and therefore face significantly less prejudice compared to my female colleagues. Not everyone is comfortable speaking out, nor is it in their nature to be confrontational. And that’s okay. But that’s why I believe that women need to help and support each other, whenever and wherever they can.

Morgane with her parents at the graduation for her bachelor of science!/ Morgane Merien

In your opinion, which changes, if any, are needed in the scientific system to be more attractive to female scientists and possible future scientists?

In a nutshell, we need more female representation and better science communication. I can name on the fingers of my hand famous female scientists, and even less that are still alive today. Yet the amount of famous male scientists is astounding! So where are the women? We know that they’re out there, so why are they not given their time in the spotlight too? We need to change that, and the male-driven scientific culture that goes with it. Women can do science, and they can do it just as well! The way we communicate our scientific knowledge to the public needs to change as well. When I tell non-scientific people what my project is about, the most common response I get is “Well what is even the point of doing it?”. It seems that they all want us to find the cure for cancer, or nothing at all! We all have that scientific curiosity in us from a young age, but somehow this gets lost along the way. Science is not just for scientist, it is for everyone. And so, we need to bridge that gap between scientists and non-scientists, and communication is key. A part of that is that general science literacy needs to improve, so that our discoveries and accomplishments can be available to everyone.


You can contact Morgane at , visit her website and follow her on Twitter!