A picture is worth a thousand words – Creating an inclusive lab webpage

Faculty of Science
Equity, diversity and inclusion
Research and innovation
Vincent Tabard-Cossa and his team
Humans are visual beings; what we see can affect the way we think, feel, and act. Images have great power as they leave long-lasting impressions on the way we perceive our environment and greatly influence our behaviour. When used correctly, images can foster a sense of inclusion.

Professor Vincent Tabard-Cossa harnessed this empowering role of images to design his laboratory’s website. In collaboration with Montreal artist Michel Hellman, Prof. Tabard-Cossa designed drawings that project a more inclusive and welcoming image of his lab. These drawings are not only inclusive, but also a little humorous. For example, one drawing depicts two people skating on the Rideau Canal and leaving behind the pattern of DNA helices on the ice. 

The website also displays a public-facing Lab Manual that transparently mirrors the values and expectations of the lab, while using gender neutral language. Inspired by the work of other groups and co-developed with lab manager Matthew Waugh and Research Associate Dr. Erin McConnell, the Tabard-Cossa Lab manual includes sections on mental health resources, expectations and responsibilities, and a code of conduct. The goal is to promote a healthier and more diverse lab culture and to encourage more women, especially at the graduate and postdoctoral level, to join the lab. According to Prof. Tabard-Cossa, “It’s always a challenge. At the moment, there is only one woman in my lab at the postdoctoral level, and none at the graduate level, and such role models are important. While I make a concerted effort to hire talented women for undergraduate research positions, almost no women apply for graduate positions. I therefore engage in outreach activities in the hopes of increasing visibility and encouraging retention”.

In Physics, the under-representation of women, people of colour, and Indigenous peoples is an ongoing challenge. This is true in Prof. Tabard-Cossa’s research group, which focuses on a very specialized topic – nanoscale biophysics. Their objective is to develop novel techniques to characterize and manipulate single biomolecules, such as proteins and DNA, using nanopore devices. This could lead to the establishment of new technologies for the Life and Health sciences, including the development of rapid tests for faster detection of diseases such as cancer, and their progression. 

Prof. Tabard-Cossa expresses hope that his research group can have better representation at the graduate level in the future. In addition to his website, he will organize annual meetings to allow the members of his research group to openly discuss equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) topics and lab resources to further their knowledge about these important subjects.

Prof. Tabard-Cossa received the 2021 Canadian Association of Physicists (CAP) Medal for Outstanding Achievement in Industrial and Applied Physics, and the University Research Chair in Nanopore Science. He attributes this success to his diverse research team, including current and former group members and collaborators.

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