Date released
01 March 2023

Australia and the Philippines share a long history of partnership in promoting science education, research and innovation through development cooperation and capacity building programs, including in agricultural research.

ACIAR has been working closely with its Philippine partners to support STEM careers for emerging leaders, particularly women, in agricultural research for development. While the Philippines is ranked 19thin the 2022 Global Gender Gap Index, women are still underrepresented in leadership roles in STEM, particularly in the agriculture, fisheries and natural environment sectors.

To address this, ACIAR provides opportunities for agricultural scientists to develop their scientific capability through formal postgraduate training such as our John Allwright Fellowship (JAF) and through leadership and management programs for early to mid-career scientists and researchers. ACIAR capacity building programs have a strong focus on women, to create career pathways and support them to improve the livelihoods of fishers and farmers in the Philippines.

Science for sustainable marine aquaculture

A woman with dark hair sitting at a desk holding a pen.

Dr Jay R Gorospe obtained her PhD from the University of the Sunshine Coast through the ACIAR John Allwright Fellowship. She is a scientist working as a postdoctoral researcher for the ACIAR-supported sea cucumber project in the Philippines.

Her work involves the optimisation of periphyton as a food source for sea cucumber juveniles in ocean-based floating hapa nursery systems. Most recently, her research focused on assessing the factors affecting the successful adaptation of sea cucumber mariculture as an additional livelihood option. She is also working with small-scale fishers from Santiago Island, Bolinao, and Pangasinan to assess the potential of integration of sandfish within existing mariculture systems such as grouper culture.

Along with researchers from the University of Technology-Sydney (UTS)University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI)Guiuan Development Foundation (GDFI) and Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC), she is also assessing the interactions between sea cucumber mariculture and capture fisheries sectors and its impacts on the livelihoods of community partners. 

Dr Gorospe said she has always wanted to work in research, agriculture, and science and technology (S&T) fields.

‘I believe working in the S&T sector provides a tremendous opportunity to contribute to advancing marine science research, particularly in the conservation and sustainable production of marine resources,’ said Dr Gorospe.

‘My work involves developing the potential of sustainable and equitable marine aquaculture to address not just environmental but also socio-economic needs of low-income coastal communities.

‘In addition to discovery, contributing to new knowledge and making a difference in people’s lives, working in the field of marine science is also fun. I get to see breathtaking places below and above water, experience new cultures, try new foods and work with amazing and inspiring people. One of the coolest things about being a marine scientist is getting paid for doing what I love to do.’

Dr Gorospe considers herself fortunate to work with organisations without apparent gender discrimination, where men and women can work harmoniously towards a common goal.

‘Moreover, my engagement with ACIAR has provided tremendous career opportunities and allowed me to become culturally competent. It has enabled me to learn new skills and be more creative and systematic in addressing certain scientific and social challenges, particularly in advancing and developing a sustainable sea cucumber culture in the Philippines,’ said Dr Gorospe.

‘Looking back, my engagement with ACIAR served as an avenue to develop and establish a professional network with other scientists and researchers from various agricultural fields across the world.’

‘My advice to girls and women considering pursuing a career in science is go for it, take the leap; it is the greatest profession in the world. There will be times when things don’t work out the way you expected; perhaps, your experiment failed, or you have mistakenly used the wrong chemicals while preparing a reagent solution. Research is a challenging endeavour but it is extremely rewarding when we succeed in solving that bit of a puzzle and contribute to the realisation of a bigger goal.’

My advice to girls and women considering pursuing a career in science is go for it, take the leap; it is the greatest profession in the world.

Dr Jay R Gorospe

A group of people on a boat holding sea cucumbers

Promoting inclusive development

Ms Hadasha Bongat is a junior faculty member at the Department of Business and Management within the College of Management and Economics at the Visayas State University (VSU) in the Philippines.

Since joining the teaching staff in 2017, Ms Bongat has worked on agribusiness management systems, commodity systems, project study and development, research methods, and entrepreneurship courses. She has also been involved in research projects that support rural communities and agri-industries through value chain management and analysis.

Ms Bongat was a recipient of the ACIAR John Dillon Fellowship (JDF) in 2021. She also participated in a CSIRO and University of Queensland-led Agribusiness Masterclass supported by ACIAR and the Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (DOST-PCAARRD) from 2019 to 2020.

‘As an educator and a researcher, my role is to help develop the young generation to become competitive and to advance developments for sustainable communities and the environment,’ said Ms Bongat.

I have a soft heart for the underprivileged because I come from a modest background. As a Philippine Military Reservist Officer, I frequently communicated with numerous charity organisations that do free medical missions and food programs. However, it wasn't until Super Typhoon Haiyan that I understood I needed to take further action. I shifted my career and consequently joined the research and development team at VSU.’

On the theme of International Women’s Day, Ms Bongat said that organisations must truly comprehend the perspective of women, their needs and support requirements to ensure a balanced participation of men and women in society.

A woman with dark hair in a striped cardigan, with trees blurred in the background.

Ms Bongat’s first engagement with ACIAR was through a research project that aimed to develop vegetable value chains for smallholder farmers in the southern Philippines.

Ms Bongat added that her engagement with ACIAR through the JDF empowered her through providing education and leadership opportunities in research initiatives. The program increased her leadership and management skills and knowledge and expanded her network and collaborations, enabling her to influence and increase impact in her organisation.

‘Looking back at how I started in research, I can still clearly recall what my mentor at the university told me. As I handed him my application letter, he told me, ‘Dasha, just always put your best foot forward.’ What an encouragement that is. Deep inside me is my realisation—that while putting forward my best effort and determination, there’s another foot behind. That foot may have failed and struggled but it will come as a substantial step toward greatness,’ said Ms Bongat.

‘I would tell all the other women pursuing careers in science and research to utilise their ‘failures’ as fuel to spark achievement. Failure is lovely as long as you leverage the lessons you gain from it.’

Three women sitting and one standing while in discussion.

Learn more about the ACIAR Capacity Building program here