Women in science: Iris Boumans

International Day of Women and Girls in Science

On 11 February, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science is celebrated to promote full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls. To celebrate this Day, from ClearFarm we would like to share the experiences of women involved in the project.

Iris Boumans is a postdoctoral researcher at the Animal Production Systems group of Wageningen University. In this interview, she shares with us her perspective and experiences as a woman scientist.

Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I obtained my Bachelor degree in Animal Management with a specialisation in laboratory animals in 2004. Thereafter, I worked in the field of laboratory animals, as course coordinator for responsible handling of laboratory animals, quality officer in an animal research institute, and coordinator in a project on humane endpoints for laboratory animals, a refinement alternative to animal use. After seven years of work experience, I decided to do a Masters in Animal Science at Wageningen University and became increasingly interested in animal behaviour and animal welfare of farm animals. After my Masters in 2013, I got the opportunity to do a PhD on pig behaviour and related sustainability performance at the Animal Production Systems group of Wageningen University. After my PhD graduation I continued as postdoctoral researcher at the same group, working on behaviour and welfare of farm animals and the use of sensor data for this purpose.

Why did you become an animal scientist?

I am passionate about animals and have always been interested in observing, interacting and learning about them. During my Masters I discovered my curiosity in understanding behaviour of animals and animal welfare research. I enjoy doing scientific research and it always inspires me to further explore this field.

What is your research on the ClearFarm project about?

My research in ClearFarm focusses on assessing pig welfare through sensor data, such as from feeding stations and video cameras. By bringing information of multiple sensors together, we hope to find new animal welfare indicators by improved interpretation of real-time farm data, which can be used for on-farm welfare assessments.

What is the coolest thing about your work/research?

I love being surrounded by people that I admire and who inspire me. Besides having the opportunity to keep learning and collaborating with many other scientists, my work allows me to contribute to what interests me most: animals and their welfare, within the broader view of sustainable farming systems. I believe that what we do matters and that gives me a lot of energy.

Which problems do you face with in your career due to being a woman?

I can’t say that I have faced any problems in my career due to being a woman. I felt I have had several opportunities to develop myself and to follow my ambition. Although I know that there are examples of inequality between man and woman, for example in higher level jobs or salary, I don’t have the feeling that being a woman has worked to my disadvantage.

What do you do to maintain a balance between your work and your personal life?

Finding this balance is sometimes tricky as I also see my work as my hobby, which sometimes makes it difficult for me to stop working after working hours. However, my partner and I have a great old farmhouse with some hobby animals and spending time at home or seeing friends and family also gives me great joy. Besides, our animals can indicate very well when they need attention and I should stop working, especially now working from home is standard due to the Corona crisis.