Say hello to Vimbai Siziba!
Vimbai Siziba (soon to be Vimbai Shyntum) is a geneticist, at Masters level. She currently works as a wildlife conservation geneticist. Her work aims at analyzing different populations of wildlife at the genetics level as a means to implement conservation methods. She also works in analyzing sex determination in birds as well as the innate immunity and age determination especially in animals born outside of captivity. All this is part of wildlife conservation efforts.
Phro: How did you become interested in Science? How were you exposed to it outside of school curriculum and did the exposure encourage your interest in Science?
Vimbai: I got interested in Science the day my High school headmaster questioned how smart I was. Backstory: In high school after form 2 exams we were split into 3 classes. The Sciences (the really smart guys), the Commercials and the Arts. I got into the Sciences and that was not when the undermining begun. This happened after O level results. I picked up my results with 6A’s and this man had the audacity to say “I don’t think you are smart enough to take Sciences on for A levels”. In a condescending tone. Mind you I actually wanted to take Arts. I loved History, I was damn good at English and Geography and as hard as Shona was I passed it without trying. So I decided you know what I actually have an A in Biology and B’s in Maths and Physical Science so why not prove him wrong. It was beyond ridiculous and childish. Granted I was just 17 at the time. Do I regret making a life changing decision based off childish annoyance? No. Turns out I am actually good at what I do. So that’s how I got into Science. I was exposed more to languages and history growing up. My exposure to Science was self created. As I became aware that Science was the direction my career was going, I made it a point to expose myself to science outside of the classroom.
Phro: What were your expectations/fears (if any ) when you entered the workplace for the first time as a woman scientist? Were they confirmed or challenged?
Vimbai: My biggest fear was racism and it was confirmed. Not Sexism. Racism. I have seen color matter over work and substance. I actually moved from that research centre to another but guess what, same problem. I have to work twice as hard to get recognition. It’s sad.
I had zero expectations getting into the work-place. Can you believe that? My Honors degree was an eye opener for me. It taught me to have zero expectations to avoid disappointment.
Phro: Studies have shown that women drop out of STEM fields at an alarming rate. Have you witnessed this first hand? If so, what do you think causes it?
Vimbai: In undergrad the dropout rate was ridiculous. I genuinely think it is because it is taxing. Compared to other courses, BSc degrees require lectures, weekly tutorials and 3 hour weekly practicals for every single Science subject. Secondly, let’s be honest, Science doesn’t pay much. Why put in all those hours to be a Lab tech? And without a PhD you aren’t qualified for a LOT of promotions in the workplace.
Phro: Are you constantly aware of your gender when in your spaces of work? Do you ever feel like it is a barrier for you or in how others treat you?
Vimbai: Not at all hey. In the biological sciences women make up the greater number. Even in my current workspace, there are way more females than there are males.
Phro: Would you say that your work is a job, something you do for a living that is separate from your life or is Science a significant part of who you are?
Vimbai: Science is now an integral part of my life. Marrying a fellow scientist just made it worse. Even with problem solving in the marriage we apply the scientific method: observe the problem, test out different problem solving strategies, experiment and implement the best strategy.
Phro: Some women scientists have stated publicly that they feel gender-based awards for science give them special treatment and that they prefer to be judged on a level playing field with all genders. Do you agree with this? Or do you think gender-based awards are useful?
Vimbai: I actually disagree with this notion because most people still consider science as a more male suited role. These awards create recognition and show the world that women are making great advances in science.
Phro: How can society do a better job of sharing the stories of women in Science and encouraging women and girls to pursue careers in Science?
Vimbai: I think the biggest problem especially when we visit high schools is that most people are unaware of the career options available to a scientist. All people know is Medicine and Engineering. I think creating awareness of the various career options would aid significantly in helping people choose careers in Science.
Thank you Vimbai! I’ll personally try out the scientific method in solving problems with my person 😀 Catch y’all next week with the next interview!
This series is a collection of interviews from women studying or working in Science. Please note it is open to all transwomen and non-binary persons too. If you would like to share your story please contact me here.