Yesterday was the International Day of Women & Girls in Science, and many of my Twitter feeds were full of people celebrating the scientific contributions of women from around the world. In short, it was a day to celebrate how much of science has been and continues to be led and shaped by women, and also a call to reshape the current system which creates barriers that prevent young girls from taking part (and often actively attempts to push them out should they overcome those barriers).
For me, the day reminded me how lucky and privileged I have been (and continue to be) to work with and learn from so many incredible women. Without a doubt, I would not be where I am today without their influence, guidance, mentoring, and leadership. But it was also a day that highlighted the ongoing struggles that women face because of a system that continues to treat them differently.
Twitter, sadly, provides several examples that are, I’m sure, a small taste of what women deal with every single day. Take for instance this thread which outlines the lessons that women learn at an early age that I know I never had to learn1:
Or this thread specific to women in academia, and the various “advice” they’d received:
Or even this tweet by my colleague, Dr. Shoshanah Jacobs, that describes how the same activity carried out by her and her partner is perceived differently by students:
Sho’s particular experience isn’t atypical. The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) recently released a report on the discrimination prevalent in teaching evaluations, which found that “Women, racialized, and LGBTQ2S+ faculty, as well as faculty with disabilities, receive lower scores than their white male colleagues”.
None of these examples portray a positive picture of the experience of women in science. They do, however, illustrate the types of barriers that women face each and every day. It’s no wonder that around the world less than 30% of all researchers are female.
Clearly, these numbers need to change. More than that, we – and in this case, I’m looking at the males of science – must do better. We need to call out sexism whenever we see it. We need to create a space where women do not have to spend time dealing with misogyny. We need to be better partners in science and research, not active barriers to it. And we need to do these things without expecting a pat on the back, recognition, or high fives, because not being a jerk is, I think, the bare minimum expectation of any human.
As I mentioned earlier, however, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science also offered me a chance to reflect on those women who have had a profound effect on who I am today. I want to take a moment to thank them all, and in particular to highlight a few who have been – and continue to be – role models to me.
- Dr. Gerarda Darlington (Professor, Department of Mathematics & Statistics, University of Guelph) is an award-winning Statistician. She has been both the Chair of the Department of Mathematics & Statistics and the Associate Dean Academic of the College of Engineering & Physical Sciences. Her expertise in developing methods for correlated data helped inform and guide the work that I did during my PhD. When I need to talk Statistics, she is one of the first people I think of. Gerarda continues to be a role model for me as I have developed my research skills, and she embodies the type of academic advisor I want to be.
- The other person I think of when I need to talk statistics is Dr. Stephanie Dixon (Adjunct Assistant Professor & Program Manager, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry). Steph is a Biostatistician with expertise in correlated data, competing risks, and survival analysis. Her keen observations and mathematical skills helped improve the methods I was developing for my PhD. In addition to being an adjunct professor and special graduate faculty at the Univesity of Guelph, Steph currently leads a group of researchers investigating kidney diseases and transplantation at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.
- In many ways, Dr. Judi McCuaig (Associate Professor, School of Computer Science, University of Guelph) and Dr. Deb Stacey (Associate Professor, School of Computer Science, University of Guelph) have inspired me with their neverending supply of brilliant and innovative research questions, and how they manage to bring those ideas to life. Their approaches to research have improved the way that I conduct my own research, even outside of the domain of Computer Science.
- Dr. Max Liboiron (Associate Vice-President Indigenous Research, Memorial University) was named one of the recipients of the Nature Inspiration Awards in 2018 in recognition of her community-engaged research studying microplastics in the ocean. She also directs the Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research at Memorial University. Interestingly, Max is the only researcher in this list that I don’t chat with on a regular basis. In fact, our paths have crossed only once – while I was in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and had the opportunity to hear her speak. Regardless, the feminist and anti-colonial approach to which she leads her research lab and conducts her research has had a profound effect on me, and has given me the opportunity to rethink how I conduct my own research and lead my lab. If you don’t follow her on Twitter, I highly recommend you do.
- As part of the eNuk team, I have the opportunity and honour to work with Dr. Sherilee Harper (Associate Professor, School of Public Health, University of Alberta), Dr. Ashlee Cunsolo (Director, Labrador Institute of Memorial University), Inez Shiwak (Research Lead, “My Word: Storytelling and Digital Media Lab”, Rigolet Inuit Community Government), and Michele Wood (Researcher, Department of Health and Social Development, Nunatsiavut Government). Sherilee is one of the lead authors on the IPCC special report the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate and was recently named to the Canadian Women in Global Health list. Ashlee was a Canadian Research Chair and was selected as one of the inaugural members of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists. Both Inez and Michele have been recognized with the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami Inuit Recognition Award for their outstanding contributions to research. Individually, they are all innovative researchers. Together, they are incredibly inspiring, and their collective work and energy are improving the lives of people in Northern Canada and around the world.
- And finally, Dr. Shoshanah Jacobs (Associate Professor, Department of Integrative Biology, University of Guelph) is one of the most innovative and inspiring academics I know. Her expertise spans the ecology of Arctic seabirds, knowledge translation and transfer, community-engaged science, and transdisciplinary pedagogy. In 2018 she was named to the list of Guelph’s Women of Distinction. I have worked with Sho for several years now, and have seen first hand how her mind works, and how she approaches science. When I had a student interested in research that fell within the intersection of ornithology, biomathematics, and computation, I didn’t think twice. I knew Shoshanah would be the best advisor he could possibly have. I am incredibly lucky to work with and learn from her.
There are so many other women who I’ve not mentioned here whose work in science has inspired me and pushed me to be a better researcher. To all of you – thank you for each and every contribution you have made to science, and for inspiring current researchers and the next generation of girls and boys alike to ask questions, to explore, to try to understand the world and universe around them, and to build things to make life better for everyone.
1 I recognize that this particular thread is not specific to women in science, however, I believe it’s still relevant to the conversation.