To the Untrained Eye

“Diversity, it turns out, goes to the heart of how to do research and innovation effectively.”

–Fred Guteri, “Diversity in Science: Why It Is Essential for Excellence”



Jane Goodall was selected by Louis Leakey exactly for her lack of scientific training. “He wanted someone with a mind uncluttered and unbiased by theory, who would make the study for no other reason than a real desire for knowledge; and, in addition, someone with a sympathetic understanding of animals,” wrote Goodall in In the Shadow of Man. Secondly, Leakey thought women would be better field biologists than men. So, in the summer of 1960 at age 26, Goodall journeyed into the Tanzanian forest to study wild chimpanzees.

Goodall’s lack of scientific training is not to negate the value and importance of education and specialization in the sciences. Goodall later earned her Ph.D. in ethology from Cambridge University in 1965. Yet, knowing this fact about Goodall’s origin story as an initially self-taught scientist reaffirms the necessity to recruit scientists from all walks of life, especially women and people of color. The 2018 report on the Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine investigated three still prevalent forms of sexual harassment in scientific and medical fields:


  1. gender harassment (sexist hostility and crude behavior)
  2. unwanted sexual attention (unwelcome verbal or physical sexual advances), and
  3. sexual coercion (quid pro quo).


The NASEM’s Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine Policy and Global Affairs shared the following recommendations to bring about “necessary change”:


  1. Address the most common form of sexual harassment: gender harassment.
  2. Move beyond legal compliance to address culture and climate.
  3. Create diverse, inclusive, and respectful environments.
  4. Improve transparency and accountability.
  5. Diffuse the hierarchal and dependent relationship between trainees and faculty.
  6. Provide support for the target.
  7. Strive for strong and diverse leadership.


While it is true that Goodall is not comfortable being labeled as a feminist role model, her pioneering research as one of the founding mothers of primatology exists nonetheless. While Goodall has acknowledged some American media were quick to describe her long legs, blonde hair, and sex appeal in reports (often to discount her ground-breaking research on chimpanzee tool use), she also saw strength and advantage to her gender. “Being a woman helped me in practical ways,” Goodall wrote in a 2018 essay for Time. “Africa was just moving into independence and white males were still perceived as something of a threat, whereas I as a mere woman was not.”

Yet, as the significant 2018 NASEM study pointed out, more than 50 percent of faculty members in the sciences said they experienced harassment. Half! And in May, National Geographic published an essay by Dr. Kathryn Clancy, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois, in which Clancy wrote, “If we really want a meritocratic space where the most interesting, insightful, and life-changing science gets done, we must build a culture that makes room for more types of people.” Ousting “bad men” is not enough. Improving the organizational culture of academia requires enforcing clear codes of conduct so that a primatologist’s legs and hair color are not the focal point.