This International Women's Month, we celebrate courageous Filipinas who continue to break barriers, empower their community, and show that the future is female. One of these outstanding women is geologist Alyssa M. Peleo-Alampay, Ph.D.
Dr. Alampay is a professor of geology at the National Institute of Geological Sciences (NIGS) at the University of the Philippines, where she has been teaching for more than twenty years. She obtained her Ph.D. in Earth Science at the world-renowned Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, USA. Dr. Alampay was a Balik Scientist Awardee of the Department of Science and Technology and was awarded as one of The Outstanding Women in the Nation's Service (TOWNS) in 2007.
A staunch believer in sparking kids' interest in science through reading, she wrote the activity book "I Am the Change in Climate Change" in 2021. The book—geared for kids ages 6 to 12—includes child-friendly illustrations by Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan, age-appropriate language, and interactive activities grounded in science. The book encourages children to learn about climate change and helps them realize that there are things they can do to respond to climate change. Most importantly, the book is a way to increase children's adaptive capacity, promote environmental stewardship in the community, and raise a generation capable of creating real change.
Below, Looking for Juan talks with Dr. Alampay about her experiences, the successes of women in science, and closing the gender gap in STEM.
Why did you choose to become a geologist?
I've always been interested in science since I was young. I like the outdoors, too. So geology as a course and profession appealed to me because it involves fieldwork, and you either climb mountains or swim or be in the sea.
What were the biggest obstacles you had to overcome in your field? Did you ever think it would be less challenging/more complicated if you were male?
During my time in college, geology was primarily male-dominated. Usually, there would be just one to five female students in a class of 20 to 30. So, yes, it would probably be less complicated, but I liked what I was doing and was interested in geology. I just thought that any challenge had to be overcome.
What are the advantages of being a woman in your field? Alternately, what kind of prejudices, if any, did you have to face, and how did you overcome these?
The women represented another voice and another perspective—that's an advantage. However, there were also prejudices back then. Most underground mines before would not admit females. Most jobs for exploration that required fieldwork, which we all loved to do as young geologists, were limited to males. Male professors would often single us out for being different from the males in class just because we were female. We were told to perform better and prove ourselves more than our male peers. I found that unfair even then. But I just moved forward since I decided that I wanted to be part of the academe to teach and do research in geology.
How did being a woman help you progress as a geologist? Did you have any realizations from your years of being a female geologist?
I think we, women, have achieved a lot in the profession. Many passionate women geologists have spent their lives in the profession. After a while, being female was not the issue, but doing well and contributing to the science and geology profession we all loved became more important. The gender doesn't matter anymore.
In your opinion, which changes are needed in the country's scientific field to be more inclusive of women?
For geology, this is no longer a big issue as before. Now, female graduates sometimes outnumber males. Prejudices have mostly gone. However, there still is a need to increase the number of STEM women overall. The country needs it. There are still pockets of traditional thinking of gender roles, where women can only do certain jobs. It may also be that it needs more promotion among younger kids so they can start the interest in science early.
Reading can be a key to widening perspectives so that women will no longer have to overcome gender prejudices to do something they would find interesting or continue to do something they love. But being discerning and critical citizens is also what we need. They may be reading but cannot discern well.
What projects or organizations are you currently working on? How will it make a difference?
We are trying to finish publishing a book on the microfossils that we do our research on, the coccolithophores, focusing on the Philippines so that more people can learn about them. With graduate student researchers, we are continuously improving our institute's museum to be ready for face-to-face classes while developing a virtual museum for it so that the collection can be accessed even when hybrid learning becomes the norm.
We are also trying to revive the Paleontological Society of the Philippines so that fossil experts and enthusiasts can have a venue to discuss, do meaningful activities together, and promote paleontology (the study of fossils).
If you had the option to advise young girls wanting to pursue science, what would that be? What is your message for women in general?
For young girls, keep reading and learning about things. If you are interested in it, pursue it. Ask questions. Be curious. Don't let criticisms get you down. It's part of learning.
For women in general, work-life balance can be a challenge, especially if one decides to have kids. But I found that if you love what you're doing in your career or profession, it helps in personal relationships. So it's always best to find a job or career that you love to do every day. There is nothing we women cannot do.