My name is Katendi Changula-Chitanga. I am a Zambian, living in Lusaka, Zambia. I am a Veterinary Surgeon by profession and a lecturer in the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Zambia. My passion is in the field of diagnosis of diseases. I hold a Master of Science degree in Tropical Animal Health from the Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp, Belgium and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Diagnostic Veterinary Medicine from the University of Zambia. I also hold several postgraduate certificates. I am a scientist, a wife and a mother of two.
At what point in your life did you become interested in pursuing a career in Science? Were you exposed to Science outside of school?
I don’t remember an actual time in my life where I didn’t want to do something in the
sciences. I can’t say I was exposed to Science outside of school. Most of my childhood, my access to tv shows and cartoons was very limited. I was an avid reader, and maybe some of the books I read had an influence, though I am not sure. But I remember being fascinated with science in school. I loved biology, maths and chemistry.
What were your expectations/fears (if any) when you entered the workplace for the
first time as a woman scientist? Were your fears confirmed or challenged?
I honestly didn’t have any expectations or fears. I had gotten through my academics on merit so the aspect of gender never came up. I think as the years have gone on I have become aware of some gender bias, but I think that in the field I am in what counts is your ability to work hard and produce results. That puts me on equal footing with my peers, whether male or female.
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?
Science is a significant part of who I am. It is not just a job or about making a living. I really love what I do. Many times when I am working in the lab on a weekend, I take my kids with me. They have an idea of what I do. My husband is also a Veterinary Surgeon- although his area of specialization is different, we talk about our jobs and the research we are doing all the time. We help each other. We have also collaborated on some projects. So science is a significant part of who I am.
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?
I haven’t witnessed it first-hand. What I have seen is girls not being confident that they can be in STEM and do well, let alone actually beat boys. It comes from preconceived notions and stereotypes of girls’ abilities and roles. This happens from a very early age. It takes a conscious and concerted effort to teach them otherwise. I have always re-enforced to my children (a girl and a boy) that girls can do everything that boys can do and vice versa (apart from fathering/childbearing of course). All it takes is hard work. I don’t want my daughter growing up thinking that her gender is a limitation. I also don’t want my son growing up thinking he is superior or privileged just because he is male.
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?
It isn’t something I am constantly thinking of but it does come up a few times. A classic
example is how the men will automatically assume that you will do the cooking and/or
serving when you are out in the field or at a work function because you are a woman. But meanwhile you all went as scientists. I don’t allow them to treat me like that. And those who know me do not dare. But I can appreciate how it would be a barrier especially for those that can’t speak up/out against it.
Some women Scientists have stated publicly that they feel gender-based awards for
Science give them special treatment. Do you agree with this? Or do you think gender-based awards are useful?
I do not agree with this. Gender-based awards are useful in that they help to increase the
number of women in STEM fields. But it should never be used as an excuse to just rest on
gender and not to try your hardest to achieve your goals in science. They should be used as one of the tools to increase participation to a level that is equal to men. Once this has been achieved, their use should be re-evaluated.
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?
Your blog is one way of doing this. Actually in this day and age, social media plays a large role in the dissemination of information. There is a page I follow on Facebook called “A mighty girl” that supports and celebrates girls and their diversity. It is not only dedicated to science, but to all fields. I have learnt a lot from their posts about unsung female scientists as well as other great females past and present. We just need to get the information out there. In whatever way we can. It starts in the home; what we tell our children, what we expose our children to and how we act towards science based careers. There are many women doing wonderful things in science but we don’t know about them.
It was a pleasure to interview you Katendi. Thank you for taking the time to share your story.
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.