BABE #159: KATYANA VERT-PRE KIRK, Fishery Scientist
Today’s babe is an outdoor enthusiast with an affinity for all things water. She’s a fishery scientist, mother, wife, student, and travelin’ spirit whose love for animals and science has guided her into her kickass career today. In addition to an already impressive resume, Katyana is an aspiring business woman with goals of bettering food habits through agronomy. Because that’s just not enough, she also finds time to mentor young, aspiring scientists. Thanks for sharing your journey with us, Katyana! You are undoubtedly a BWH.
Hometown: Schoelcher, Martinique
Current city: Jacksonville, Florida
Alma mater: Sorbonne University
Very first job: Teacher @ Wolfon’s Children Hospital
Hustle: Fishery scientist
Babe you admire and why?
My mother. She is the most driven and well-rounded women I know. She is caring, passionate and a perfectionist. She is a great professor and cares about her students and helps them achieve their goals and beyond. She can adapt and bounce back from challenges and is extremely talented.
How do you spend your free time?
I usually spend my free time being a mother and a wife. We love travelling and discovering new countries and traditions. The outdoors is our playground at the beach, camping, fishing, canoeing, climbing, scuba diving. I recently found a new passion: baking. I also help guide and mentor young people in their careers.
Favorite app, website or blog?
The marvelous french baking blog C’est ma Fournee is my new go to. She is on top of baking techniques.
Favorite fictional female character?
Moana, as I can see myself in her. She is from the islands, close to her roots and has great family values. She is a visionary, a traveler with confidence in herself. Last, but not least, she is my daughter’s favorite character.
Go-to coffee order?
I'm allergic to coffee. (Editor's note: WHAT?!)
Go-to adult beverage?
What would you eat for your very last meal?
What is something you want to learn or master?
I would love to master being kind to others.
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
My grandmother; there is a book to be written about this woman. She left way too early and knew so much about life and people.
Tell us about your hustle.
First, I am a mother and a wife. I have a wonderful 3-year-old girl and a sweet and supporting husband. Second, I am a fishery scientist. We help give management and conservation advice for fisheries around the world. I use mathematical models to do so. I do consulting work for some companies, I tutor young kids and I am creating businesses in relation to agronomy to better food habits.
What does your typical workday look like?
8:00 a.m. mommy hat: I usually wake up and spend one hour with my daughter, talking in French to her before bringing her to school. Business hat: I meet up with friends to discuss business ideas for about one hour, or read and respond to emails. Fishery scientist hat: I then go back to my home office to work on my research. Mommy hat, again: I take time during the day to go see my daughter at her extra-curricular activities while organizing some work or catching up on Skype with family in France or Martinique. I throw on my Fishery hat again, and then, it’s back to being a mommy and a wife. I usually work again from 9:00 p.m. to midnight, before going to bed around 1 a.m.
What inspired your interest and passion for fish studies and hatcheries?
Growing up on an island, scuba diving and freediving taught me the importance of fish as the only protein source for many coastal communities. My scientific and curiousness comes from my adventures with my searching for insects and stones. Back at home, we would treat each sample and identify them using an encyclopedia.
Have you always been interested in science and STEM-related careers?
At six years old, I wanted to work with animals. When I was 12 or 13 I wanted to work with something related to the ocean and math.
How have your experiences with world travel and other cultures influenced you in both personal and professional spheres?
I started traveling at three months old and never stopped. Traveling opens your horizons, teaching you who you are and how you the see the world. It makes you more tolerant and open-minded. Fun fact: I met my husband traveling! I knew I wanted to be able to travel while being paid for it, so I managed to find a career that requires a lot of traveling. I've met wonderful people through my travels, creating a wide, useful network for my career.
Do you have any advice for other babes who are managing their hustle and going back to school?
Organize your day. Do not let school get in the way of your family life or your work. To do so, you must prioritize. It will get hard; you will want to quit. What makes the difference between succeeding or not is that time when you do not quit and find your way over the hump.
What’s been your biggest career milestone?
Publishing my articles in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences was a huge milestone for my career. It presented my work and put me on a map in the scientific world.
What was it like to be published for the first time?
It was a great feeling of accomplishment, but was also scary to have so many eyes on my research. It was very surprising to learn that some of my work was used in management strategies and taught in classes to the next generation of scientists.
How has being a woman affected your professional experience?
Our field is a lot about opportunities and hard work. I had the hard-work-part down, however I soon realized women are simply not perceived the same as men. A very specific example: I arrived on a field research site with earrings on. After making friends and working for a week with them, I was told they really thought I was a little doll that wouldn’t hold my ground on the field... because I showed up wearing earrings. They thought I was too feminine to be smart and efficient on the field. I ended up overseeing one of the projects the following year. There is often a preconceived idea that women won’t do as well on the field. Moreover, in a lot of my school experiences, there were very few female professors. I always wondered why, then I realized you can get professorship with the number of publications you have. When you’re a mother, your publication rate sometimes slows down. I realized female professors in my field were often single, had nannies raising their children or became a mom very late in life. It was a disappointing realization for me to see that *having it all* as a woman is tough.
What’s one of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in your work?
It might be being a woman in a male-dominated field. Moreover, being a mother in such a field was quite the adjustment. I slowed down in my publishing the year I had my daughter; you'll unfortunately be judged the by the number of publications you have by an employer. In general, I just tend to be bolder while staying feminine. As for the number of publications, I try to not stress too much about it and do quality work when I do publish. Quality over quantity.
What is your biggest strength in your role?
My creativity and my capacity to focus.
What is the skill you most need to improve?
Probably my writing.
Who are some women in your field you look to for inspiration?
Dr. Ana Parma. She is an amazing scientist who is feminine, bold and brilliant. I crossed paths with her 10 years ago and learned a lot from her.
What’s your ultimate dream job?
Working as a fishery scientist in the developing countries through the United Nations.
Are you involved with any other community organizations or side projects?
Yes. I am volunteering in an organization that creates events for surf competitions in the Caribbean. I'm also building an agronomic project for developing countries.
What advice would you give to a babe trying to break into your industry?
You need to get your mathematical, statistical and coding skills up to date. But my biggest advice would be to have the widest portfolio of skills and extracurricular activities possible.
What helps you wind down and manage stress?
Swimming is my best stress reliever. Recently baking, too.
What are some notable experiences you’ve had on the job?
Once, I challenged a professor who claimed women were not as good as men on the field. We did Olympic trials and I won four out of five trials. He admitted he was wrong. We are good friends now. Also, the day I whacked a fish too strongly while trying to catch it to tag it and killed it. I felt so bad. Last but not least: the day I faced three bear cubs in Alaska while on the field. They started following me and I had no clue how to react. I was terrified as I kept thinking, “Where is the mom?” Turned out their mom had been killed the previous day so there wasn’t any real danger.
What’s next for you?
Hopefully finally opening my side business/NGO and maybe a job at the United Nations.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Make to-do lists, but keep them short, with reasonable goals. Enjoy what you do, but know that some days won’t be fun no matter what. Cherish your support system.
Connect with Katyana:
This interview has been condensed and edited.
All photos property of Katyana Vert-Pre Kirk unless otherwise specified.