One Team
Thursday, Feb. 11 marks the sixth International Day of Women and Girls in Science Assembly held at the United Nations Headquarters. This year, it's virtual, one of a host of events around the world – and across UHN – being held to commemorate the day. (Photo: UHN's StRIDe Team)

Less than 30 per cent of researchers worldwide are women, which is about the same percentage of female students who select STEM-related fields in higher education, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO. To address this inequity, the U.N. in 2016 declared each February 11 will be known as the "International Day of Women and Girls in Science."

It is a day to celebrate the renowned women scientists, clinician-researchers, staff and learners at UHN. These colleagues are not only on the leading edge of their respective research areas, but also paving the way and inspiring future generations.

Here's a roundup of some ways we are celebrating and acknowledging this important day:

Krembil Research Institute hosts virtual event streamed to students in Grades 7 to 12

Hodaie, Wallace, Zageh, Sowmya
In addition to an all-star line-up of Krembil researchers pictured above, Dr. Mayim Bialik, of “The Big Bang Theory” television show, and Dr. Eugenia Addy, founder & CEO of Visions of Science Network for Learning (VoSNL), are guest speakers. (Photos: UHN)

The Krembil Research Institute, in partnership with the Durham District School Board, will be live streaming a one-hour virtual event featuring three trailblazing female Krembil scientists and clinicians. Drs. Valerie Wallace, Sowmya Viswanathan and Mojgan Hodaie will discuss their lives and careers, what inspired them to enter the field of science, and will each give a short TED talk-style presentation on the incredible work they do in the fields of brain, vision and arthritis research.

"My message to all students, boys and girls, concerning science and STEM is, by all means, if you have passion, if you have interest, pursue that interest. Answer the question for yourself and don't be dissuaded by any negative thoughts that someone might put in your way," says Dr. Hodaie. "Think, 'What is it that I can do in my profession to help others, to be of service to society? What unique contribution do I bring? How can I advance the field? The rest will follow."

Dr. Mayim Bialik, of "The Big Bang Theory"television show, and Dr. Eugenia Addy, founder & CEO of Visions of Science Network for Learning (VoSNL), will be delivering inspirational messages.

The public education event, moderated by Dr. Gelareh Zadeh, a neurosurgeon and co-Director of the Krembil Brain Institute, is meant to inspire and engage young minds and is geared to anyone with an interest in STEM education.

Cardiac surgeon-scientist Dr. Jennifer Chung shares her story

Dr. Jennifer Chung is a cardiac surgeon-scientist at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre. (Video: UHN)

Dr. Jennifer Chung knew she wanted to become a surgeon after seeing cardiac surgery for the first time.

"It was really thrilling to see the human heart beating, and then to be able to put your hand on it and know you can make a difference in a patient's life," says Dr. Chung, a cardiac surgeon-scientist at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre.

For International Day of Women and Girls in Science, Dr. Chung shares why her mom is a role model for women in science, how she applies her engineering background to research in cardiac surgery, and the importance of knowing women can pursue both a fulfilling career and family life.

"I think it's a very exciting time to be a woman in science," says Dr. Chung. "You're joining a large and growing cohort of female leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators."

KITE launches social media campaign to spotlight trailblazing rehab researchers

Catriona Steele
"Keep learning and reading, be brave and reach out to scientists," Dr. Catriona Steele of The KITE Research Institute says to younger girls interested in science. (Photo: UHN)

Trained as a clinical speech-language pathologist, Dr. Catriona Steele, Senior Scientist at the KITE Research Institute, and the Director of the Swallowing Rehabilitation Research Lab, first worked on the clinical side for approximately 10 years. Throughout, she realized treatment options for patients were surprisingly limited.

Determined to make a change, she went back to university to get her PhD and find effective treatment options for swallowing impairments. After completing her doctoral fellowship, she became a scientist, and now leads the Swallowing Rehabilitation Research Laboratory at KITE.

"I hope that as a woman in science, I can succeed – just as well as any man –but also tread a path that will make it possible for girls and women to be engaged in science in the future," says Dr. Steele. "I have been mentored and inspired by many female scientists and hope I can do the same."

When it comes to diversity in science, Dr. Steele is a major advocate for it.

"Having diversity among people in science is a key ingredient for building teams that do better."

What is Dr. Steele's advice to younger girls interested in science?

"Keep learning and reading, be brave and reach out to scientists," she says. "Even though a career in science can have its share of challenges and disappointments, it is also one of the best careers out there – to have the privilege of continuously learning new things, and hopefully contributing to projects that will improve lives for other people is exciting and rewarding."

The KITE Research Institute is running a social media campaign to celebrate International Day of Women and Girls in Science by recognizing up and coming female researchers, scientists and senior scientists who make a tremendous impact in the world of rehab science.

On a mission for gender equity at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre

Dr. Courtney Jones, Co-Chair of the Princess Margaret Gender Equity Committee, discusses why gender equity is important in science. (Video: UHN)

The Princess Margaret Cancer Centre is the birthplace of stem cell discovery and a powerhouse in cancer research, attracting the brightest minds from around the world to accelerate cancer discovery.

The diversity of the cancer research community is paramount to deepen our understanding and accelerate new therapies. The Princess Margaret Gender Equity Committee is focused on that exact mission. 

The committee works closely with the UHN Research Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Committee to achieve gender equity in representation, leadership, research and recognition among scientists, trainees, and staff at the Princess Margaret. 

Significant progress has been made, but we aren't there yet. The committee hopes to address the gap by first tackling the gender bias that exists within the research eco-system, then looking towards the infrastructure that creates hurdles for women who want to pursue a scientific career. 

"Gender equity in science is a key factor in our ability to achieve scientific excellence," says Dr. Courtney Jones, scientist and Co-Chair of the Gender Equity Committee, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. "Ultimately this will result in better research and care for patients with cancer.

"We need more talented women in science."

The committee is co-chaired by Drs. Catherine O'Brien, Courtney Jones, and Anastasia Tikhonova, and includes Drs. Linda Penn, Benjamin Haibe-Kains, Mathieu Lupien, and Rama Khokha as committee members. 

Discussing barriers faced by women in academia with The IDEA Committee

IDEA Committee
The IDEA Committee at UHN is a group dedicated to championing inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility across UHN’s Research community. (Photo: iStock)

UHN is constantly working toward building A Healthier World, and that means gender equality, including in STEM. As part of the Strategic Research Plan, UHN Research created the IDEA Committee – a group dedicated to championing inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility across UHN's Research community.   

"It's important that we first recognize the systemic barriers faced by women­ – including the historical and social discrimination – that position them at a disadvantage for career development," says Dr. Azadeh Yadollahi, Chair of the IDEA Committee. "Only then can we implement policies and strategies that create equitable opportunities for women with diverse backgrounds."   

On Friday, Feb. 12 at 11:00 a.m., the IDEA Committee will hold a virtual seminar to discuss some barriers faced by women in academia. Moderated by Dr. Susanna Mak, the seminar features Drs. Moira Kapral and Serena Sohrab, who will speak about advancing women in academic medicine and the impact of infertility on women's careers. Register for the seminar and watch - IDEA Seminar - Women in Academic Medicine. 

Shining a spotlight on the next generation of women scientists

Sayeh and Laura Kuhlmann
Sayeh Bayat and Dr. Laura Kuhlmannare two of the more than 1500 research trainees at UHN. (Photos: Office of Research Trainees).

UHN is committed to training the next generation of scientists.

Sayeh Bayat and Dr. Laura Kuhlmann are two of the more than 1500 research trainees at UHN – postdoctoral fellows and students conducting a research project supervised by a UHN scientist.

Sayeh, a Biomedical Engineering PhD candidate in the Intelligent Assistive Technology and Systems Lab (IATSL) at the KITE Research Institute, is applying artificial intelligence (AI) to investigate the barriers to and facilitators for outdoor mobility of healthy older adults as well as older adults with dementia.

Dr. Laura Kuhlmann is working at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre investigating proteins expressed on the surface of cancer cell, in the hopes of identifying unique targets for novel, less toxic cancer therapies. With a passion for writing, she actively engages in science communication that everyone understands.

"The ORT is passionate about supporting research trainees at UHN. This includes celebrating the diversity of our research trainees and recognizing the integral role that our trainees play in the incredible research happening across UHN," says Dr. Linda Penn, Director of the Office of Research Trainees (ORT) at UHN and Senior Scientist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.

The Office of Research Trainees (ORT) is shining a spotlight on some of the exceptional woman trainees across the research institutes who are instrumental in the critical research advances occurring at UHN.

The social campaign on the ORT Twitter page and LinkedIn page starts Thursday, Feb. 11.

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