Women in Science: Yaneth Gómez Herrera

Since its declaration as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science back in 2015, February 11th has been the ideal moment to discuss and to promote actions for a full and equal access and participation of women and girls in science.

To continue with our initiative from last year, we have talked to some of the women working in ClearFarm project, to know their experiences and share their views about science and gender equality.

Yaneth Gómez Herrera is PhD student at the Ethology and Animal Welfare research group from the Department of Animal and Food Sciences in the UAB. Her research is focused on the potential of precision livestock farming technologies to improve the welfare of dairy cows in four main areas: health, housing, nutrition, and behaviour. Together with other welfare researchers, and a multidisciplinary team, she explores the capacity of these tools to prevent and detect frequent diseases in dairy cows, and metabolic disorders around calving, and to monitor the expression of natural behaviours, feeding behaviour, nutritional conditions, and comfort around housing.

Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I obtained my veterinary degree in Colombia, my native country, and I began my career in the companion animals’ clinic. Later, I did two masters: one in Animal Law, and another in Animal Welfare, at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. I am currently a second year PhD student at the UAB Ethology and Animal Welfare research group, which is part of SNIBA (Nutrition and Animal Welfare Service).

How did you decide to become a scientist?

I have always been passionate about animals, their physiology and behaviour, and the bonds between humans and animals, so I decided to become a veterinarian. A few years ago, in my country, the ethical use of animals, their welfare, and the sanctioning of mistreatment, were not much more than an illusion. This motivated me to expand the perspectives of my clinical practice by studying the masters. These experiences approached me to animal welfare as a science, and the knowledge acquired in companion, zoo, and production animals, increased my interest in the study of animal welfare and behaviour. Thus, I knew that I wanted to continue along this academic route. Thereafter, I got the opportunity to do a PhD in dairy cow welfare with the UAB Ethology and Animal Welfare research group.

Briefly, what excites you about your work?

To be permanently acquiring new knowledge, the fact that my questions can bring research advances, and contribute to the society, especially in this field, in which animals are the protagonists, and we explore the most appropriate practices for their physical, mental and emotional welfare. As society collaterally benefits from it (from producers to consumers), this area is currently raising a great public interest, and it is a motivating factor. I also enjoy being surrounded by colleagues whose work inspires me to investigate, as well as being part of a team in which there is always an exchange of knowledge, experiences, cultures…

What are your greatest achievements and what are your plans for the future?

My research career is quite early, so it is very encouraging to see the first outcomes of it as scientific papers and conferences. Participating in a project such as ClearFarm, in which you are actively heard, in which your work and contribution are constantly required, is of course challenging for an early career researcher, but is also quite stimulating, as I am deeply nourished by other researchers’ knowledge, also in multidisciplinary areas. In the future, I plan to continue doing research in welfare and ethology, and I would like to be able to contribute to the advancement of these areas from science and teaching.

Do you feel that your career would have been different if you were a man?

Not really. In the past, the gender gap was very noticeable in some specific circumstances. For instance, when a young woman presented herself on a farm as a veterinarian, her ability to work with animals could be questioned. Today, I consider this barrier has been overcome due to the increasing number of female veterinarians and technicians, and our performance.

In science, it is well known that balancing personal and professional life can be challenging in many situations, in terms of time and also mobility, especially for women, due to our family and social roles. From my personal experience, so far, nothing would have been different, I see a consistent gender heterogeneity in the various research groups, and in my group in particular, the growth opportunities are independent of gender, and we all count on the same team as a support network.

Why is diversity important in science?

Irrefutably, regardless of the gender perspective, we human beings can all develop the same capabilities to perform roles of any complexity, and we deserve the same opportunities for personal and professional growth, and to contribute to society. Particularly in the scientific field, the approach to certain research questions, the curiosity for investigating certain topics, or the interest in some scenarios within the same science area, may vary between genders, or cultures, or social contexts. So, I would say diversity brings nourishment to science.