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Visiting herpetologist speaks to biodiversity and women in science

Umilaela Afirin in front of Logan Canyon
Jack Phillips

Umilaela Arifin, a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Researcher at University of California-Berkeley recently spoke to the USU biology department on her experience in research as an Indonesian woman. Her love for biology and passion for biodiversity blossomed as an undergraduate biology student at Bandung Institute of Technology.

“… as a human, because we are connected to biodiversity, and then we use a lot. Since the early age of human in this earth, then we always connect it to the forest to the resources like around us, and then how can we understand them? So then we can wisely make use of this biodiversity. So then it is mutual benefit,” Afirin said.

It quickly became clear to Arifin that few women continue on to advanced degrees, particularly in Indonesia. Arifin wanted to encourage, inspire and connect young women with interest in herpetology. She, along with several colleagues, came up with the Global Women in Herpetology Project.

“Initially, it was just to share. In many field, women are still less representative," said Afirin.

The Global Women in Herpetology Project is working to highlight and connect women across the world working with reptiles and amphibians, through a herpetologist database and a book they are working to publish.

The book Arifin and colleagues are compiling includes stories and photographs of 50 women herpetologists across the world. They are currently raising funds to publish and distribute the stories in order to spread awareness of diversity in herpetology and create a scholarship fund. All proceeds from the Global Women in Herpetology book sales will go toward establishing a conference scholarship for women.

Afirin hopes to publish the book next year and begin distributing scholarship funds by 2024. For more information on the Global Women in Herpetology Project visit

Erin Lewis is a science reporter at Utah Public Radio and a PhD Candidate in the biology department at Utah State University. She is passionate about fostering curiosity and communicating science to the public. At USU she studies how anthropogenic disturbances are impacting wildlife, particularly the effects of tourism-induced dietary shifts in endangered Bahamian Rock Iguana populations. In her free time she enjoys reading, painting and getting outside with her dog, Hazel.