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Genetics of sex difference

Dr. Judith Mank, a professor in the UBC Department of Zoology, talks about her research at the Biodiversity Research Centre on the genetics that differentiates the sexes of various organisms, what she teaches at UBC and her experience as a woman in science.

I'm Judith Mank and I work at the Department of Zoology and the Biodiversity Research Centre here at UBC. I study why males and females look and act different - so everything from the genetic basis of those differences, to the evolutionary reasons. So are they doing different jobs? Are they experiencing different ecological pressures? Are they making a living in different ways? Most of this work we do in guppies, although in the lab we've worked on all sorts of different things from birds to willows to bugs. Most of what we do is very genetic and the genetic toolkit translates across all organisms.

I teach second year genetics - everything from how do you go from DNA to an organism, to the underlying basis of diversity within populations. So, how do you create different variants of an organism?

How did you get started in biology?

I actually came very late to biology and genetics. My undergrad degree is in anthropology and I wanted to be an archaeologist and it was only pretty late in the game that I realized that people with red hair should not work outside all the time. From there, I got interested in conservation and I still am but ultimately it was the genetics underlying conservation issues that piqued my interest and that's what I did for my PhD and still work on today.

Why do you research and teach at UBC?

So I did all my schooling up through my PhD in the US and then I moved to Sweden for my postdoc which was actually fantastic. So if you grow up in the South, I’m from Texas and from Florida, Sweden is about as exotic as it gets. From there I moved to the UK for 10 years - first at Oxford and then in London and when I was thinking about moving back to North America, UBC was actually at the top of my list. My colleagues here are amazing and it's one of the best places in the world to do what I do, and the natural environment is just stunning.

What is your experience as a woman in science?

So it's a little bit ironic that I study sex differences, but I don't know of anything, any issues that I've ever had as a woman in science. The only thing I've noticed is that there are fewer and fewer of us as we sort of move up the academic ranks and it can get a little bit lonely. But, I'm quite happy to say that people have been very thoughtful about equity and diversity issues here and it's really a pleasure to be in a place where people are concerned about this and trying to fix it.

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