Mirza is a lecturer at the Faculty of Forestry & Environment, Institut Pertanian Bogor University, and a researcher, focusing on amphibians and reptiles.
How did you choose your field of study?
Nature and wildlife always fascinated me when I was a child. It was not only my parents that brought me to nature, growing up I watched documentaries like Born Free and read the Adventure series of young adult books written by Willard Price. The protagonists in these books are two brothers who went all over the continent to find animals for the zoo. I think these kinds of stories made me excited about natural history. So obviously I choose to study animals during my undergraduate study.
My research on amphibians also comes from my reminiscence of childhood. My father had a lot of professions, one of which was as frog leg trader. At that time our house was surrounded by rice paddies. I still remember that he had lots of people working to harvest frogs at night in the nearby rice fields. I could see the lights from home and in the morning there was lots of frogs in the buckets. When I was doing my PhD research, I was actually asking myself, is the trade sustainable? Is the frog harvested for consumption still abundant? After that, I realized that we don’t know much about frogs of Indonesia and decided to focus on this.
During your career, have you been specifically mentored or supported by someone?
Yes, I’m very lucky that I have had a good mentor in my academic career. My mentor is my senior in my department, a female academic and mother of two. She is also my Masters supervisor, colleague and then friend. From her I’m not only learning my work ethics, but also how to juggle between motherhood and a career. Knowing how much I like frogs (based on a chat with her), she gifted me a book on amphibians which became the start of my career as a herpetologist.
My family, especially my husband also is a good supporter. I did my postgraduate studies (my Masters and PhD) when my children were small. He wholly supported me by taking care of our children whenever I was too busy with study and work. He even became a stay-at-home husband during my PhD to take care of our children, a role that not too many Asian males are comfortable with.
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?
I think one of the biggest obstacles I had to overcome is that people in my country tend to underestimate you when you are female, especially when thinking about doing fieldwork or going abroad. I remember during one national seminar I was asked if I was really going to the field since the location was remote. I’m not sure anybody would have asked that if I was male.
One of the questions that I was asked when I was going to pursue my PhD abroad is whether my husband approved, which is a bit annoying since I know that not many of my male counterparts have been asked the opinion of his wife. Being in the field with male counterparts is also a bit of challenge as you sometimes have to make a point without them thinking that your gender has affected your judgment.
Do you feel that there is a support network for women working in conservation, either locally, nationally, or internationally?
In my case yes. I’m surrounded by women working in conservation in my country, not only people working in academics but also in in NGOs or in government organisations. We don’t really have a formal network, but informally we meet regularly and discuss not only about conservation but also how to enhance our work despite any problems related to our gender.