Future Earth Coasts

FEC Dialogue with Female Scientist: Prof. Zhanghua Wang

“More individuals, regardless of gender, can engage in scientific research driven by their curiosity and passion, as reflected in my own journey. Female scientists, in particular, should be able to make choices based on their interests rather than being hindered by gender considerations.”

– Prof. Zhanghua Wang

Zhanghua Wang, professor at State Key Laboratory of Estuarine and Coastal Research, East China Normal University, specializes in late Quaternary sea-level fluctuations, estuary-delta evolution and human-environment interactions. Her remarkable contributions include significant insights into understanding the responses of estuarine-deltaic sedimentary landforms to global climate-sea level changes and human activities in river basins, as well as the environmental evolution of the Yangtze River Estuary-Hangzhou Bay coastal zone and the succession of Neolithic cultures. Particularly noteworthy are her findings on the late sea-level rise event and flooding disasters during the late Liangzhu culture. Her findings propose crucial environmental factors that triggered the collapse of the ancient Liangzhu state. These findings were featured in the CCTV documentary “Liangzhu”. Her work has been published in international journals such as Earth Science Reviews, Quaternary Science Reviews, Marine Geology, Journal of Quaternary Science, The Holocene, and Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. In recognition of her outstanding contributions, Professor Wang has received several awards, including “Natural Science Award” under Shanghai Science and Technology Awards and Shanghai Scientific and Technological Progress Awards. She serves as an editor for Marine Geology and has written the popular science book for youth, “I Want to Go Sailing” to share her passion for science with the younger generation. It was selected for the 2022 “Children Read China” original excellent children’s book list.

Q: From your perspective, what specific skills and qualities do you think are essential for scientific research? What kind of personality traits and characteristics do you consider most fitting for individuals pursuing a career in scientific research?

A: In scientific research, essential qualities include honesty, a strong sense of curiosity, the willingness for self-reflection and self-criticism, as well as respect for peers.

Q: What motivates your involvement in scientific research and your choice of the current scientific field? Could you share a bit about the trajectory of your career in the scientific field, and whether you’ve experienced any turning points that significantly influenced your trajectory?

A: My journey into scientific research has been fueled solely by my childhood dream of becoming a scientist, driven by passion rather than external motivations. Throughout my career, there haven’t been any pivotal moments or significant turning points. My recent collaborations with archaeologists have resulted in some satisfying discoveries.

Q: For undergraduate students involved in scientific research, GIS and remote sensing are becoming increasingly popular, while geology is relatively niche. As a paleogeologist, what is your opinion on this trend? Do you have any advice for the undergraduates navigating these choices?

A: As the times change and technology advances, what is considered mainstream is in constant flux. Geology, once a mainstream field, may not rule out the possibility of reclaiming its prominence in the future. As new research methods emerge, there is potential for their applications in traditional disciplines, injecting fresh vitality into established fields. Most importantly, the key is to determine what scientific questions one is eager to address, and scientific research should not be confined by disciplinary boundaries.

Q: In your daily scientific and teaching work, how do you effectively manage your time?

A: I possess a strong sense of planning. Additionally, I am focused when working, often getting immersed in thought. Whether walking, eating, or even lying in bed, my mind frequently delves into pondering various questions.

Q: For female scientists, balancing family, career, and personal life is a challenge. How do you handle this challenge?

A: I don’t have high goals for my career or personal life. Work brings me joy in solving challenging problems, and my life is quite simple. Therefore, I don’t feel the need to sacrifice family life to meet professional aspirations. After the birth of my daughter, I committed my evenings and weekends to her. I invested effort in learning about parenting, resulting in her independence from an early age. Now that she has entered junior high school, my evenings and weekends have become relatively free.

Q: As a female scientist, have you faced gender discrimination or challenges in your career? If so, how have you addressed and overcome these obstacles?

A: Almost none.

Q: Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls will make a crucial contribution. In your current field of study, what unique research perspectives do you think female researchers can bring to make a crucial contribution? 

A: I have never considered any connection between my gender and scientific research. I don’t perceive any gender differences in the field I am engaged in.

Q: How do you think we can better inspire interest in science for women and girls? What ways can help women overcome deep-rooted obstacles and establish successful careers?

A: Don’t dwell on gender issues and follow your own interests.

Q: Your initial intention in establishing the WeChat official account Your Friend the Earth is Now Online was for scientific communication and education. Do you think it has achieved this goal? Looking forward, what direction do you envision for the future of this WeChat official account, and what significance does it hold for you?

A: Achieving the goal of scientific communication and education is challenging, and it’s hard to determine whether it has been realized. Readers of my public WeChat account include students, middle school teachers, and researchers from universities and research institutions. Some study geoscience, while others specialize in archaeology. Through this platform, I strive to disseminate our research findings with a balance of depth and accessibility, recognizing the interdisciplinary nature of our studies, and aiming to foster understanding for readers from various disciplines. I also share insights from field investigations, learning experiences, and outdoor work on this public account. Occasionally, I encourage students to write as a means to hone their writing skills and stimulate their critical thinking. In my own experience, writing contributes significantly to enhancing one’s depth of thought. Personally, this public account is one of the enjoyable aspects of my life.

Q: What are your expectations or hopes for the future of women in the field of science? What advice would you offer for women pursuing a career in science?

A: I hope our management system can ensure the basic funding needs of ordinary researchers, providing non-competitive funding support annually. In this way, more individuals, regardless of gender, can engage in scientific research driven by their curiosity and passion, as reflected in my own journey. Female scientists, in particular, should be able to make choices based on their interests rather than being hindered by gender considerations.

Click to read more about Prof. Zhanghua Wang.

More From This Category…