Meet Tanya Dapkey – an entomologist working on the exciting Barcode of Life project! (Part 2)

Do you come from an academic family?

No, my mother does not have a college degree and my father was a software engineer. I am not the first person in my immediate family to have a degree, but I am the only one working in an academic institution.

How does your family regard your career choice?

My mother and husband are proud of me. My husband just wished it paid better.

During your career, have you been specifically mentored or supported by someone?

My boss, Dr. Daniel Janzen, and his wife, Dr. Winnie Hallwachs have mentored and supported me since the day I started working for them. They are patient, encouraging, kind, amazing people who I am extremely proud to work with.

Besides your scientific interests, what are your personal interests?

I love photography, reading books and sorting my insect collection.

Tanya getting some fieldwork done for her Master’s Degree, 7 months pregnant with her son, White Clay Creek, Chester County, PA.

Is it hard to manage both career and private life? How do you manage both?

Yes! You manage both by realizing you have to make some sacrifices. I can’t have a fully realized academic career AND have a happy fulfilling relationship with my children. I think people who do manage to have both of these things have a ton of resources available to them. I have amazing resources (my mother and husband) but they can only do so much, and my commute limits the amounts of hours I have left in a day. I do want to be a part of my children’s lives – but it means I have to make sacrifices at work. Do I help my daughter with her science project and go to her fair or do I stay late at work so I can attend a talk or a networking meeting? At some point, I stop worrying about it and make the best choice I can in the moment and try hard not to beat myself up about the choice. I recently heard a woman on a podcast speaking about how motherhood made her a stronger person, and this statement really resonated with me. Becoming a mother has given me more confidence in myself, even though I channel that into career choices.


What is a typical day like for you?

I wake at 6 AM, then get dressed and ready for work. I pack my own and my families lunch, then leave at 6:30 to catch a train into the city. I usually get some work done on the train and catch up on emails. I arrive at my lab around 8:15 AM and finish my emails and have my coffee. I work until 2:30, and then I pack up and catch a train home. I usually arrive at home by 4:30, have dinner then help my kids with their homework. I will make lunches for the next day, and do any prep work for the morning before bathing the kids and putting them to bed. Sometimes I have meetings that run later in the evening, and in those instances, my mother helps me take care of the children.

What were the biggest obstacles you had to overcome? Did you ever have the impression that it would be easier/harder if you were male?

Finishing my graduate degree was difficult due to the fact that I was pregnant at the time, then I became a breastfeeding mother. I am not sure I was prepared for how it would affect my body to such a significant degree. I was exhausted and mentally drained most days. My beloved writing and reading became huge chores. So, if I had been a male-bodied person, I would have had fewer physical demands. In that sense I feel like being a man would make it easier.

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

Tanya covered in Luna moths. Hopewell Furnace BioBlitz, part of the 2016 National BioBlitz.

Were you able to overcome these?

I am lucky that I do not have to face that many prejudices. If I had to pick something, it’s that I lack a Ph.D. Not having this has made it difficult to find other types of employment and to gain respect from older colleagues. But this is the exception and not the rule. I have only had one bad experience while working in my current position, and it was many years ago. I was at a table having dinner with some older scientists and one of the gentlemen made a derogatory comment about my position (not myself personally) while I was sitting at the table. He did not even look at me or acknowledge my presence. It was a brief encounter, but it made an impression. Many of the older scientists in my field (entomology) are male, and they cling to certain old truths. Integrating new technologies and people has been difficult for some, but not all. Again, most of the time I am met with true collaboration and mentorship. The entomologists and ecologists who have taught me the most have been of this older generation, and they shared their knowledge freely and with enthusiasm. As time goes on, I have become known and interacting with colleagues has become much easier and more fruitful.

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

Better childcare services! Make it affordable and on site. Penn offers childcare, but even with my employee discount, it’s more than I make in a year.

When my son was born, my boss lets me bring him to work so I could breastfeed on demand. I did this for 5 months, but my work suffered. I know some jobs are easier to do even with children underfoot, but it was very difficult for me to do my job well and be a mother at the same time.

Before my mother became the person who took my kids back and forth to school, I would have to wake my kids at 6 AM, get all of us ready, and then drop them off at daycare as soon as it opened at 6:45 AM. I would then work a 6-hour day, catch a train home (hope that it wasn’t late), and then pick up my kids right before the daycare closed at 6 PM. My kids were exhausted all the time, and I spent between $20K & $30K a year in daycare tuition! I did this for over 5 years.

If women knew they had a solid support system they wouldn’t feel the choice between children OR career, they could have both.

If you had the option to give advice to a younger version of yourself, what would that be?

I would tell myself to finish my degree(s) faster and wait a little longer to have children.

You can read more about Tanya at, contact here at, or find here as @TanyaDapkey on Twitter

Read part 1 of the interview with Tanya here!