S.R.O.S. researcher wins fellowship

One of Samoa’s leading agricultural science researchers has won a fellowship in Australia designed to improve women in agricultural research's leadership skills in recognition of her years of contributions to the field . 

Scientific Research Organisation of Samoa (S.R.O.S.) Plants and Postharvest Technology division director Dr. Seeseei Molimau-Samasoni has been working on agricultural research for the last five years.

She is now a Meryl Williams Fellow under the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research (A.C.I.A.R.) funded fellowship scheme, named for gender equality advocate Dr. Meryl Williams.

Speaking to the Samoa Observer, Dr. Molimau-Samasoni said she has had her share of being talked over or ignored on the job and hopes the programme will help her become a better communicator.

“Usually when a woman talks in some agriculture spaces men kind of switch off,” she said.

“I am hoping that from this programme I’ll learn to be a more effective communicator and get my message across in such a way that even if men see it’s a woman the message will still be delivered in a way they won’t be able to ignore.”

But learning better communication skills is not only about getting through to male ears, but also the different kinds of partners she works within her research, the scientist said.

“I work with smallholder farmers, commercial farmers and exporters, I work with researchers here in Samoa and overseas and I also come into contact with political figures. 

“There are times when I have felt the message I have been trying to convey does not necessarily get across to these different groups of people and so I want to develop skills that would allow me to communicate effectively and achieve my goals as a public servant more effectively.”

The fellowship programme is running over the next couple of years. While border closures continue the group of fellows from across the region will meet and train virtually, until they can come together in Australia for three-week intensive in-person training.

Lead trainer Dr. Rebecca Spence is from Gender Equity in Agriculture Research for Development (G.E.A.R.e.D.) which runs the fellowship. She is a specialist in helping women navigate barriers to their success in the workplace.

Unlike some other women in leadership programmes this fellowship is not about getting women to the top tiers of management in their workplaces, but to leverage wherever they are to achieve their goals and effect change, Dr. Spence said.

“You can lead from wherever you are. You have authority, you have the knowledge, you can speak with clarity and impact from whichever position you are at, whether that is an early career researcher or mid-level manager or senior scientist.

“Once you believe you have the authority and the agency to create the impact, you can do it.”

She said the women in the first cohort of the fellowship began to speak with more authority within their own workplace and in the fieldwork they did too.

“If they had a good idea they would prepare a pitch, take it to their supervisor and say I think we should do this.

“And what has happened they have begun to be listened to more by the people in their organisation because they are standing up straighter and saying I can do this.”

Dr. Molimau-Samasoni said she has had a passion for science since primary school when she was a year eight student learning the life cycle of plants for the first time.

“That really got to me. Then at Samoa College there was always this idea that you are always learning something new. In science and research you are out there to discover something that nobody had ever discovered before. That is what got me hooked on science,” she said.

She said she wants to be with S.R.O.S. for the next five to ten years at least, developing Samoan farmers and exporter’s access to lucrative markets and boosting Samoa’s economy.

The plants and postharvest team are also trying to make fruit and vegetables easier to grow and harvest so that they are available in bigger quantities, hopefully driving the price down and leading more people to a healthier diet.

Throughout the fellowship, Dr. Molimau-Samasoni said she hopes to become a good research leader and drive new innovative research in both these areas for the betterment of Samoa.

“I am gearing up to lead a regional project on food loss so I will be learning as I go along. This training programme will definitely help me in this space as well.

“I want to contribute to S.R.O.S. and develop an environment that will foster young women researchers in the agriculture space and in science in general.”

Two major bonuses to the programme are that Dr. Molimau-Samasoni will meet other women in agricultural science research from the region and develop a group of women to bounce ideas off of, compare notes and share wins with.

She will also have a mentor here in Samoa with her to work alongside, which is Dr Fetaomi Tapu Qiliho. She is based at the National University of Samoa and has a PhD in Pacific Studies from the University of Otago, where she researched Tuvaluan diaspora communities in Samoa and Fiji.

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