More than 4,000 students, parents and teachers from as far away as Arizona, Italy and Zimbabwe signed up for this year’s Krembil Research Institute International Day of Women and Girls in Science virtual event, which featured, (clockwise from top left), host Mary Ito and Krembil scientists Dr. Karen Davis, Amina Adama and Laura Passalent. (Photo: UHN)

For the third successful year, the Krembil Research Institute at UHN has hosted a live virtual public outreach event for students of all ages and affiliations, from all over the world.

The free, one-hour live stream was moderated by CBC radio and podcast host, Mary Ito, and featured three women scientists at different stages of their careers, who work in the areas of brain, vision and arthritis research, at Krembil. Watch a teaser video of the event

Dr. Karen Davis, Senior Scientist at the Krembil Brain Institute, spoke about advances in technology to study pain and the brain, as well as her commitment to helping young women in science start their careers through a scholarship at the University of Toronto.

"My mother and my grandmother had a huge impact on me," says Dr. Davis. “They were very encouraging even though they never had a chance to pursue their own education.

"I wanted to honour them by starting a scholarship for young women who are the first in their family to go to university."

Amina Adama is a fourth-year PhD student in Dr. Jeremy Sivak's lab at UHN's Donald K. Johnson Eye Institute. She studies glaucoma and discussed her non-linear path to becoming a scientist after first wanting to be a pediatrician, then a forensic pathologist.

She encouraged the students watching to follow their passion and never give up.

"What I would say to young students watching today is, don't limit yourself, ever," Amina says "If you have a big idea, just go for the big idea."

'Overwhelmingly positive' response from educators and science enthusiasts around the world

Laura Passalent, an Advanced Practice Physiotherapist and clinician investigator at UHN's Schroeder Arthritis Institute, inspired students with stories about her adventures traveling the world and how, through those experiences, she learned to be a disruptor.

"What advice would I give my 16 year-old self?" Laura asked the audience. "You may think you're on one path that's going to take you through your life. But that path will have many forks in the road, and those forks are going to take you to incredible places.

And no matter which way you turn, you're going to learn something new and you're going to grow from it."

The Honourable Marci Ien, Federal Minister of Women, Gender Equality and Youth and Member of Parliament for Toronto Centre, encouraged students to be bold and passionate, and embrace the power of education to “open the door to young & brilliant minds like yours to tackle some of the greatest challenges facing us today."

More than 4,000 students from around the world joined the live stream, from across Canada, and from as far away as Arizona, Mexico, Italy and Zimbabwe.

"The response to this event has been overwhelmingly positive from educators and science enthusiasts worldwide," says Carley McPherson, Senior Manager of Planning & Operations at the Krembil Research Institute, and Executive Producer of this annual event.

"We're excited to showcase the incredible work of our scientists and their often not-so-traditional journeys into STEM. In doing so, we hope to inspire young minds to pursue their interests, to remain inquisitive and to consider a path in STEM because science needs everyone!"

Breaking down the barriers between science and the public and making science more equitable are major priorities for Dr. Jaideep Bains, the new Director of the Krembil Research Institute.

"We hope that students see themselves represented in the journeys shared by our speakers and feel encouraged to pursue a career in science," says Dr. Bains. "Perhaps there is a future Krembil researcher in the audience who will one day cure Alzheimer's, glaucoma or rheumatoid arthritis.

"That is why we do this, to foster those connections and inspire a new generation of scientists."

There were numerous other initiatives across UHN to celebrate the 2023 International Day of Women and Girls in Science, an annual awareness day on Feb. 11 organized by the United Nations to promote equal access and participation for women and girls in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

A new video features interviews with some of the inspiring women in science at UHN. (Video: UHN StRIDe Team)

Video celebrates the journeys of women researchers at UHN

The StRIDe Team at UHN Research has put together a short documentary style video exploring the different journeys of women in science at UHN.

It highlights the life and career paths of trailblazing women researchers at UHN – each of whom is advancing discovery and innovation for A Healthier World.

The video features interviews with Sara Vasconcelos, Stephanie Williams, Cristina Nostro and Stella Ng.

Samira Omar is sharing her story to mark the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. (Photo: The KITE Research Institute)

KITE trainee's research seeks to confront institution racism in rehabilitation

Samira Omar was interested in pursuing a career in science at a young age, and was even planning to become an occupational therapist, when her younger brother suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in 2014.

The incident was an eye-opener for Samira, who says she was forced to fight tooth and nail to help her brother find the proper treatment for his injury.

"I didn't understand why I had to convince people in the healthcare system to treat my brother," says Samira, a member of the KITE Research Institute's Acquired Brain Injury & Society team. "People were making assumptions that because he was a young black kid that he deserved to have those injuries, which meant that they didn't need to treat him like he deserves to have a future and a life worth living."

The experience motivated Samira to pursue a PhD in rehabilitation science at the Rehabilitation Sciences Institute (RSI) at the University of Toronto. Her research, which is the first of its kind in Canada, focuses on confronting and addressing institutionalized racism in the rehabilitation research and practice of black people with TBI.

The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation has a story featuring a Q-and-A with Drs. Natasha Leighl, Kristin Hope and Kerstin Kaufmann on their career inspirations and challenges. (Photo: The PMCF)

Inspiring the next generation of women and girls in STEM

International Day of Women and Girls in Science recognizes the extraordinary contributions that women and girls around the globe make while applying their creativity and skill set in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

However, it's also a day to acknowledge the underrepresentation of women and girls in STEM and highlight the need for equal access to opportunities that will position women to become leaders.

The Princess Margaret Cancer Centre is home to many notable women scientists who have made, and continue to make, tremendous progress in furthering our understanding of cancer, evolving treatments, and advancing patient care.

Drs. Kristin Hope, Kerstin Kaufmann, and Natasha Leighl discuss what inspired them to pursue a career in science, the importance of more women and girls in STEM, and the challenges they've faced.

Dr. Roni Bitterman, a clinical research fellow at UHN's Ajmera Transplant Centre, is one of those featured in social media posts to mark International Day of Women and Girls in Science. (Photo: UHN)

Testimonials of female scientists who help make Ajmera Transplant Centre a world leader

UHN's Ajmera Transplant Centre (ATC) celebrated the date by sharing testimonials from female scientists at the centre speaking about what inspired them to pursue a career in science and the value of women mentors.

UHN wouldn't be home to a leading transplant centre in the world if it weren't for the contributions of amazing female researchers, who continue to advance both basic science and clinical research.

In case you missed, you can visit ATC's Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to view and share these great posts.

Next month, the centre will launch Women in Transplant (WIT), a committee that will provide a supportive culture to those who identify as women and are allies to women at ATC.

The inaugural event will happen on March 8.

Dr. Laurie Ailles in her lab looking through a microscope that her lab researchers use for analyzing patient-derived specimens. (Photo: UHN)

Meet Laurie Ailles @PMResearch

Dr. Laurie Ailles is a Senior Scientist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and an associate professor in the Department of Medical Biophysics at the University of Toronto.

Her research is focused on head and neck cancer, ovarian cancer, and cancer-associated fibroblasts. A key aim of her program is to identify new treatment targets for solid tumours.

In a profile, Dr. Ailles discusses her early years when travelling was a great education, how she launched her career in science, her current research and life beyond cancer research.

Being a woman should not stop anyone from developing a career in science, she says. While juggling a science career with parenting and home life is challenging, she has never felt that this has held her back.

"The situation has greatly improved in recent years, with women in science having greater flexibility to conduct their research in whatever way works best for them," she says.

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