Marine scientist honoured for her contribution to diversity

Abby Smith2

Professor Abigail Smith has been named this year’s recipient of the Miriam Dell Award for Excellence in Science Mentoring by the Association for Women in the Sciences (AWIS).

Abby, Professor of Marine Science at the University of Otago, was chosen from the nominations based on her work to encourage diversity and inclusiveness. This includes developing Family Friendly Workplace guidelines, leading peer mentoring initiatives, and supporting the appointment of women to committees and council roles of scientific societies. Over the course of her 27 years in the Department of Marine Science – including 12 years as the only female academic on staff – she has mentored more than 50 postgraduate students - more than half of whom were women - and has been involved in the University’s formal mentoring and academic leadership development programmes.

“I strongly believe Abby is deserving of this prestigious award because of her life-long commitment and many contributions to advancing the role of women in science by active mentorship, by serving as a role model, and by her strong leadership in many different local and national positions of responsibility,” says Dr Rebecca Zitoun, who nominated Abby for the award. “Abby has mastered the art of balancing her work and family life while maintaining a personal commitment to support and inspire female students and faculty members. As a beneficiary of her constant compassion, enthusiasm and contagious energy, I know she will continue to support and mentor women in science, making a significant difference to their lives and careers.”

“I believe very strongly that everybody deserves a chance to follow their dreams,” says Abby. “Too often people are judged by what they are instead of what they can do. As an educator and a scientist, it’s my job to encourage, enable, and include people who want to learn and grow. And, of course, when I do, I also learn and grow.”

The Miriam Dell Award for Excellence in Science Mentoring was introduced in 2013 and is awarded on a biennial basis to someone who demonstrates outstanding mentoring efforts to retain females in science, mathematics or technology. Nominees can be from any part of the science system – including lecturers or supervisors at universities or other tertiary education organisations, or from commercial science-based organisations. They may have mentored, formally or informally, females at any stage in their career – from tertiary education to the science workforce. The Award is named for Dame Miriam Dell, Patron of AWIS, botanist, secondary school teacher and advocate for women’s advancement. Previous recipients are Judith O’Brien from the University of Auckland (2013), Dr Roslyn Kemp from the University of Otago (2015) and Professor Vivien Kirk from the University of Auckland (2017).