mikki mccomb-kobza explores underwater

Women in STEM Careers: Dr. Mikki McComb-Kobza

Many people have heard of Dr. Marie Curie, likely in a science class in school. The French physicist and chemist earned two Nobel Prize honors for her work, becoming the first person ever to do so. And she remains the only person awarded Nobels for work in two different scientific categories.

But Curie also was a champion of the battle, of striving to achieve, as evidenced in this quote from her 1937 biography:

“We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.”

women in stem careers iconDr. Curie was – and remains – 100 percent correct. Unfortunately, many young women that want to become scientists are discouraged from doing so, and some of the reasons are prioritization of boy’s education, gender biases and stereotypes, and the global divide.

This is the second blog of a series called “Women in STEM Careers.” This series will highlight the work of some very inspiring women scientists that I know, and, hopefully, inspire other women to enroll or continue in higher-education STEM careers. This is as important now as in Dr. Curie’s time, given that the number of women in STEM careers remains disproportionately low when compared to men.

Mikki McComb-Kobza releases a juvenile scalloped hammerhead shark she tagged in Costa Rica

Dr. Mikki McComb-Kobza releases a juvenile scalloped hammerhead shark she tagged in Costa Rica. [Image supplied]

Please tell us who you are and what you do.

I am Dr. Mikki McComb-Kobza and I am the executive director of Ocean First Institute, a nonprofit organization with the mission of ocean conservation through research and education. I conduct research in the field and bring those stories back into classrooms to inspire students to explore and care about our ocean and its inhabitants. I also take students on research expeditions so they can experience science first hand.

Why did you decide to go into this field?

Mikki McComb-Kobza uses her laser photogrammetry rig to measure great white sharks at Guadalupe Island, Mexico.

Dr. Mikki McComb-Kobza uses her laser photogrammetry rig to measure great white sharks at Guadalupe Island, Mexico. [Image supplied]

I was terrified of sharks after seeing the movie “Jaws” as a young girl. I overcame my fear of sharks by reading about them, and the more I learned the more I was captivated. Sharks are incredible creatures with a long evolutionary history on our planet, and there are tremendous adaptations seen in the more-than-500 species swimming in the ocean today.

My passion for sharks propelled me into science so that I could learn more about them and ultimately to have a career where I help in conservation efforts.

What really excites you about your work/career?

An image of Mikki McComb-Kobza is shown on a monitor, during a remotel presentation to a Mobile Innovation Lab as part of an ocean education seminar.

An image of Dr. Mikki McComb-Kobza is shown on a monitor, during a remotel presentation to a Mobile Innovation Lab as part of an ocean education seminar. [Image supplied]

I am very excited about my work with sharks and using new technologies to answer questions about where they move, where females have their pups, how they find each other from vast distances. There is so much we still do not know about sharks. Putting together pieces of the puzzle is really fun and helps us find new ways to help protect species that are in decline. I also really enjoy sharing their story and getting people excited to learn more about them.

Do you have a female scientist that you admire? If yes, who and why?

I met Dr. Sylvia Earle in 1998 when I was a production assistant for National Geographic. I got to spend a week with her in the Florida Keys, diving on the Aquarius underwater habitat. I dove with her and was so inspired by her optimism and her bold visions. She started her own company that made submarines so she could explore the deep ocean. She started her own nonprofit to help the world designate global ocean “Hope Spots,” which are special places in the ocean that need protection and visibility. She has been a champion and a mentor to so many women in science and she has been doing this for decades!

Mikki McComb-Kobza (center), poses for an underwater photo with two students in Belize during a research expedition to monitor the movements of endangered Antillean manatees

Dr. Mikki McComb-Kobza (center), poses for an underwater photo with two students in Belize during a research expedition to monitor the movements of endangered Antillean manatees. [Image supplied]

What would be your advice to younger women thinking about enrolling in a STEM career?

The world is changing very quickly today, and we are now living through the world’s sixth mass extinction event, caused by us. There is no other time like the one we are in now. More than ever, we need compassionate, smart, dedicated women to enter the sciences so that they can understand what is happening and be able to respond effectively. We need women with the right knowledge and tools to protect the natural world.

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