uOttawa women in science offer advice to the next generation

Posted on Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Two young women in a lab

Someday, when we live in a more equitable, diverse and inclusive society, awareness days such as International Day of Women and Girls in Science, on February 11, might no longer be needed. Until then, let’s take the time to celebrate the women who have opened doors for future generations and inspire the girls who are thinking about walking through them.

To mark this occasion, we asked five uOttawa women in science what they would say to empower women students pursuing a career in their fields. Here’s what they had to say.

Portrait of Josephine Etowa

Josephine Etowa

Professor & OHTN Chair in Black Women’s HIV Prevention and Care
School of Nursing, Faculty of Health Sciences

Research has shown that there are few women in science disciplines, especially Black and other racialized women. Yet, we make up half of the world's population. Research further indicates that discoveries suffer because of a lack of gender diversity. Creating a diverse group of scientists would ensure that challenges in the field reflect the entire population’s concerns.

Lisa Manning, a leading proponent of gender in science, gives us a prime example:

“As a working mom, I was frustrated by the breast pumps that were available when my children were babies. But now we have great new models created by women engineers who were also frustrated with what was available in the market at the time.”

To foster a diverse global workforce in the sciences, we need your perspectives and your voices. We need diverse role models, mentors, leaders and champions in the sciences to help close existing gender-based financial inequities, create better workplaces and benefit our collective future.

Portrait of Nafissa Ismail

Nafissa Ismail

Associate professor and University Research Chair in Stress and Mental Health
Director of the NeuroImmunology, Stress and Endocrinology (NISE) Lab

Science as a whole remains a male-dominated field globally. Recent data published by the United Nations suggest that less than 30% of researchers worldwide are women. The gender disparity is more concerning in certain disciplines. For example, women are particularly underrepresented in engineering, computer science and physical science.

The gender disparity is caused by many years of challenges related to gender discrimination and lack of recognition. However, despite these challenges, many women have made historic contributions to science that have helped us gain a better understanding of the world around us. The stories of these inspiring women show that we should not shy away from challenges.

As girls and women in science, we should learn about the women who came before us and share our knowledge of them widely. If you’re interested in a particular field, find women who have made their mark in that area and pick their brains!

We must continue the work of these role models and work together to change the system and to raise awareness about these challenges. We must overcome self-doubt, remain passionate, work hard and have the confidence to take the actions necessary to achieve our scientific career goals. We owe it to ourselves! We owe it to the world!

Portrait of Rashmi Venkateswaran

Rashmi Venkateswaran

Senior instructor and undergrad chem lab coordinator, Department of Chemistry and Biomolecular Sciences

My one piece of advice to women entering the field of science and engineering is make sure that you love what you plan to do.

Many people enter a field for the wrong reasons. Perhaps it looks exciting, or you know someone else in the field. Maybe it appears to be a field in which you can easily find a job, or one that will pay very well. The only reason you should enter a field is if you are passionate about what you are doing. If you find that passion, you will wake up every day loving what you do.

As women, this is critical. Many women have other expectations thrust upon them, including marriage, children, home care and parental care, to mention only a few. It can be draining to have to think about work amidst the daily pressures of life.

However, when you love what you do, work can be a source of great pleasure and something to which you can look forward. If you love what you do, you will fight to do it and not let anything come in the way of it.

I love to teach chemistry. I will teach anyone, anywhere and at any time. All moments are teaching moments to me. I find time to do my work even if it means working at 3 a.m. I hope you all have the chance to find your passion in your field!

Portrait of Taylor Jamieson

Taylor Rae Jamieson

MD/PhD candidate, University of Ottawa
Centre for Innovative Cancer Research
Ottawa Hospital Research Institute

My advice to any woman looking to pursue a career in science is to recognize that our own self-doubt is our biggest barrier. Once you believe in yourself, you will be unstoppable.

I am the first person in my family to attend university. Being a first-generation student can be very intimidating. There were many points throughout my education when I thought I was not qualified or capable enough to apply for competitive programs and scholarships. I have come to learn over time that if you are doing something you enjoy and are able to apply your best effort, you should always apply for any scholarship or program without hesitation.

It is also important to recognize that failure and rejection are very normal aspects of education and careers in science. Don’t let these things make you feel inferior. Instead, let them help you learn and grow as scientist.

Eventually, you will reach a point when you can look at all of the things you thought you might not have been capable of and realize that they were just lessons you needed to learn along the way to reaching your goals.

Portrait of Adina Luican-Mayer

Adina Luican-Mayer

Assistant professor, Department of Physics

To better our society, there is no doubt that we must seek to ensure equity, diversity and inclusion across disciplines, including science. The only impediment to pursuing science should be lack of interest. But we are not there yet, as we women in science will tell you.  We look upon you with the hope that your generation will join us to level the playing field and improve the climate. As you buckle up for your own journey, here is my advice:

Be you. Embrace that we are all different. Identify and play to your own strengths and passions.

Be curious. If you love science, you are likely inquisitive. Cultivate that thirst for knowledge and broaden your horizon, try different jobs, see different countries. The broader your view, the easier it is to make decisions about your own path.

Be brave. Being outside our comfort zone is often when we develop new skills and knowledge.

Be determined. If you put your mind to learning a new skill in the lab or a programing language, or maybe to working on a volunteer project to help your community, work with the resolve to make it happen!

Be resilient. Failing better is part of the game in science. Dust yourself off and try again.

Be kind. As you become the future of STEM, seed kindness, include others and lift yourself by lifting others.

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