Jasmin Graham is one of the co-founders of MISS and she is their President and CEO. She is an award-winning shark scientist who has studied the Bonnethead family (Hammerheads!) and the Smalltooth Sawfish. With MISS she creates content for their workshops, programs and supports members giving them opportunities for funded research projects and lots more. If you missed our previous post about MISS then check it out here.
Q1. Can you tell us about the path that led to your current job role?
My dad and his side of the family are big into fishing. I had a lot of time to get curious. I would investigate tide pools, I wanted to know the name of every fish we caught. During middle school I was part of a magnet program, which was a huge culture shock for me. 90% of the people there were extremely wealthy and White. I remember feeling super overwhelmed on my first day. This was made worse by the fact that a teacher attempted to direct me to the other (non-magnet) end of the hallway because she thought I was "lost" which definitely didn't make me feel like I should be in the program
Middle school is a tough time for everyone, but it can be particularly hard on high achieving women and minority students. I experienced tokenism, discrimination and stereotype threat. But this experience made me who I am. During high school I did get the opportunity to do a science fair project which I did looking at fish carbonates as a potential buffer for ocean acidification. It was fun. I loved it, I got 3rd place at the state science fair despite having a judge who was a climate change denier and hostile to the idea of ocean acidification . That was my first taste of marine bio as an academic pursuit and I was all about it!
So my parents, being awesome, noticed this and we saved up money for me to go to MarineQuest at UNCW which was a summer camp where you learned about marine science. At that camp I realized you could make a whole career out of studying marine animals. The lessons of this part of the story are:
1. Give 110% and stretch yourself to achieve things that seem out of reach
2. Don't be afraid to change directions and do what is best for you and forget about prestige.
Through grad school Jasmin could see that the path of academia wasn't good for her mental health and could see the inequalities that existed in career opportunities. So, she decided to devote her life to making sure that the path would be smoother for others and that everyone who wanted to could pursue a career in STEM.
Jasmin goes into a lot more detail on her Twitter feed about her journey through education to becoming a shark scientist – Check them out!
Q2. What was one of the best experiences you had that was directly due to your career?
Anytime I get to spend out on the water interacting with sharks is a good day. But I’d say the day I decided to be a shark scientist was catching, tagging and releasing my first shark.
Q3. Tell us about some of the experiences you’ve had with sharks?
I got to snorkel in La Jolla with all kinds of elasmos this past summer which was awesome.
Q4. We have to ask; do you have a favorite shark?
Bonnethead, because it’s the first shark I ever caught, I studied the hammerhead family extensively, they are adorable and they are the only known omnivorous shark.
Photo: Chelle Bliss
Q5. Do you have a role model you’d like to share with us?
Tonya Wiley. She is one of my good friends and an amazing scientist who I greatly admire.
Q6. Do you have a favorite quote you’d like to inspire us with?
I’m going to cheat and give you two:
“Talent is equally distributed, opportunity is not.”- Leila Janah
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” - Unknown
Q7. Did you always want to be a marine biologist/scientist growing up?
No, I didn’t even know marine science was a job one could do until I was in the 10th or 11th grade
Q8. Have you had any unexpected experiences thanks to your career path?
I got to do events with someone I grew up watching and the only Black scientist I knew as a kid, Neil DeGrasse Tyson. I also got to do a live stream with Dr. Sylvia Earle who said ON THE LIVESTREAM that Dr. Eugenie Clark would say “I want to be just like you” when I was talking about how I admired her. So that was neat it was really cool to hear that from one of my female science role models and it was a double whammy because it also felt like getting as close to a seal of approval from Genie that I would ever get because she knew her well.
Q9. What have been some of your favorite moments working in marine science?
Anytime little black girls come up to me and want to talk about sharks or tell me they want to be a scientist like me. That gives me hope. I didn’t have any black women scientists as role models when I was growing up, so I’m glad that they do.
Q10. What are the biggest challenges facing girls and women of color within science and research?
Sexism: people thinking we aren’t capable of doing field work, discrediting us, trying to intimidate us at conferences, assuming we don’t know what we’re talking about etc.
Racism: blatant and subtle, biases lead to lower pay, less mentoring, assumptions about our character/work ethic etc. Being “othered” or treated like we don’t belong.
Jasmin has highlighted an enlightening article for us about sexual harassment: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-dark-side-of-being-a-female-shark-researcher/
Q11. Do you think under-representation was a stumbling block for yourself or others entering the field of science?
Yes, being the only one in a room like you is not a good feeling.
Q12. Do you recall any other women in your specific field before entering it? If so, how was your relationship with them?
No, I met some when I joined the field and I learned about women like Genie Clark, but that was after I had already made the decision to pursue shark science as a career. But when I decided to go into this field, I was unaware of any women who studied sharks. However, I now have many strong female mentors in the field because I sought them out.
Q13. Have you had the privilege of working with many other women scientists in your field?
Yes, I almost work entirely with women now, which is on purpose.
Q14. Are there any areas/topics you’d like to highlight regarding the challenges women may face when working in your field?
I’d just like to discuss intersectionality. Being a racial minority in this field is tough. Being a woman in this field is tough. Being a woman of color in this field is twice as tough. People often ask me if I think this happened or that happened because I’m a woman or because I’m Black and the truth is both those things are part of me and so I’ll never know how they impact me individually. Just like I’ll never have “proof” of the inequities I’ve experienced because there is nothing to compare it to. There is no white male version of me running around that I can use as a control.
We hope that you found Jasmin’s interview inspiring and insightful. Check out her Twitter account @Elasmo_Gal and her website.
Don’t forget that we have Instgram live chats coming up – Jasmin’s live chat will be with Carlee on Febraury 26th (7:30pm EST / February 27th 7:30am Thailand time). You will be able to send in your questions for her and Carlee via the usual channels and we will ask them for you!
The next interview with the MISS team will be Carlees, which will be out on 21 Febraury 2022.