Welcome to my Women in Science series! First off, I would like to thank Tanja Fransen for volunteering to be a part of this project and for taking the time to answer some questions - she is the first featured “woman in science” in this blog! This project will focus on women in the science industry and the impact they are making in this world. The hope is that girls and women interested in the science field will come across this blog and find many women they can look up to and strive to be like. Maybe they will even find a mentor along the way!
To find out why Tanja’s photos all have cows in them, make sure to read through her answers to the questions below!
What is your specific job in the science field?
Meteorologist in Charge of the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Glasgow, MT, a part of the US Department of Commerce, under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Our mission is to protect life and property for the enhancement of the economy through our weather forecasts and warnings. My duties include: supervising a very talented staff of up to 22 people with 24/7 forecast operations and equipment maintenance, responsible for millions of dollars of equipment and property, and on occasion I do the weather forecasting shifts.
Why did you choose to go into science? Were you inspired by someone?
Colorado weather actually inspired me. I lived there during my teen years, and the weather has a way of demanding you notice it. I remember my first trip to the top of Pikes Peak at 10 years old, in July. I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt in 90+ degrees in Colorado Springs, and two hours later at the top of the mountain nearly freezing to death (they must sell a LOT of sweatshirts in the gift shop!). From major thunderstorms with their beautiful mammatus clouds, to major winter storms in one place, and 15 miles away having sunshine, Colorado has it all, and sometimes in the same day, literally. Just before my senior year in high school we had the F3 Limon tornado that peaked my interest, and at the end of my senior year, the United 585 crash with suspected mountain wave winds happened in Colorado Springs. I’ve always liked science, and working with people. I also served on our local fire department, and the impacts of weather on wildfire was of interest to me as well. I had great teachers in High School and college who made learning fun, and as I grew in my career, mentors who were people I aspired to be like!
What were the biggest obstacles you had to overcome?
My own insecurities to start with. Many young women have moments of self-doubt and gaining the confidence in knowing you are “good enough” to hang with the crowd takes a few wins under your belt. Eventually you get enough “wins” and confidence grows. Also, learning how far your sphere of influence actually reaches. I recall thinking my first supervisor in the NWS was all powerful. Now that I sit in that role myself, and some days think I’ll never fix all the things there are to fix. Much of it is beyond my sphere of influence, so instead of getting frustrated, I refocus onto what I can improve and give energy to those projects and people who are involved with them instead.
What are your biggest/proudest achievements in the field of science?
I’ve been blessed with a few things. The first was being recognized for the NOAA Administrators Award with a co-worker after a research project was put into operational use. The Cold Advisory for Newborn Livestock was a 4-year project that has been operationally used by livestock producers for a decade now. In doing the research, we learned that economic losses for livestock due to weather total over a billion dollars a year! And newborn livestock are the most vulnerable. The second was being recognized by the American Meteorological Society for working to engage the entire weather enterprise (public, private and academic). While awards are nice, I think the proudest I’ve been is the work we (entire office) did during the record snowfall and record flooding from Dec 2010 through July 2011. It was 7 months of all-hands on deck to keep the public informed of continuous weather and water threats. When the things you do result in helping others who can act based on your data, that is a great feeling!
Do you think women are underrepresented in the science world, if so, why?
I don’t necessarily think women are underrepresented in science, but we do see more of them in biological sciences (health care) vs physical sciences. For me, I saw men doing the work, and thought, I can do it too! I didn’t specifically need a female role model for me to be encouraged, and I was never limited by family, teachers, or the community around me in what I could do (except for one Navy recruiter who said I couldn’t serve on a nuclear submarine because I was female!).
In the meteorology field, many women opt for research and academic careers instead of operational forecasting which requires shift work. It’s not easy raising a family when you are in a 24/7/365 shift work environment, and have a different sleep routine every week. Shift work is hard on EVERYONE, but there are societal expectations of mothers that add to the stress. If you don’t sleep well, it impacts your physical and mental health and after a few years of that they decide to leave. But, shift work also has its advantages, you have time in the week to do things when it’s less crowded, you don’t have to take leave to do medical appointments, etc. I will say, having a supportive family really helps, and my husband pitched in to make it work. That included being up in the middle of the night to feed babies while I was at work, and doing the cooking and cleaning when I couldn’t.
How can we increase the participation of women and girls in science?
It starts at home, and support from family when any child shows interest in STEM related topics. Encourage curiosity! Help them find resources in person and from legitimate online sources. One of my co-workers does online computer programming with his daughters. My nieces participate in 4-H programs raising small farm animals to show. My parents both encouraged me to volunteer on the fire department, and my dad arranged my 8th grade career shadow day at the Colorado Springs Air Traffic Control tower with a female ATC.
What words of wisdom would you give to young girls to inspire them to pursue the field of science?
Find a mentor!! There are so many resources online, and nearly every scientific field has a society or organization that students can join and learn more from (and they have scholarships too!). If anyone is looking for specific help in finding those resources, they are welcome to reach out to me. I had people who helped me and I’m always looking to keep paying that forward.
Where can people find you on social media and do you have anything else that you’d like to share?
I’m always happy to visit with eager young minds who want to learn. I’m accessible through Twitter and Instagram and Linked In. I tried Snapchat, but my young adult sons never snapped back so I gave that up! :)