Published: March 3, 2017

Women in Science: Alaka Wali, Curator of North American Anthropology

We're highlighting women in science at The Field Museum and their diverse areas of research, paths to working in science, and their advice for future scientists. Hear from Alaka Wali, curator of North American anthropology collections:      

How did you get to where you are?

I got to The Field Museum through some fortunate coincidences and great timing. My father–in-law knew the president of The Field Museum at the time, Sandy Boyd, and sent him my CV when my family was moving to Chicago for my husband’s job. The Museum was looking for someone to direct the more applied and outward-facing aspect of the anthropology research—to promote the cultural understanding component of The Field Museum's mission—and I fit the bill! I also had a research focus on human-environment interface, and knowledge of the South American ethnographic collections contexts.  

What’s your job like?

My job has a lot of different components, which makes it exciting and rewarding. At any one time, I am working on an exhibition (or two!) co-curated with Native American artists, doing research in Chicago on social capacities for resilience, and building our program of engaging communities in environmental conservation in the Amazon.

What has been your favorite part of the job, or a memorable moment?

Through this job, I have gained deeper knowledge through encounters with indigenous peoples in the Amazon and Native North Americans whose heritage we hold in the Museum collections. These encounters are often profoundly moving and make me aware of the depth of human ties to the places we care about and to the critical importance of cultural diversity for the survival of all life on earth. I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity to work at the Museum.

What advice do you have for future women scientists?

Science careers are not easy—work is sometimes mundane and frustrating. There are still significant barriers for women to advance. But I can’t think of a more rewarding and enriching way to spend your life. Scientific inquiry is deeply creative!