International Day of Women and Girls in STEM 2020

Posted on Tuesday, February 18th, 2020

Doris Do, student and research assistant in CBS
Doris Do, student and undergraduate research assistant in Prof. Wei Zhang's lab.

On February 11, 2020, the College of Biological Science is celebrating the UN’s International Day of Women and Girls in STEM. We are featuring a selection of profiles of CBS students who share how they became involved in STEM and the importance of supporting women and girls in these fields.

CBS student Hannah WotherspoonMy name is Hannah Wotherspoon and I am a third-year biological science student, minoring in neuroscience. As a high school student in Stratford, ON, my science teachers were very engaging and helped me make the decision to enter a bachelor of science program. My biggest inspiration however came from my parents, who both pursued degrees, and now work, in science. They are both passionate about what they do and have supported me throughout my undergraduate journey. Although they introduced me to science at an early age, my parents always pushed me to explore all of my interests and find something I love. Ultimately my innate curiosity is what sparked my motivation to pursue a career in STEM. I have always been curious and had a tendency to ask too many questions when I was younger (sorry Mom and Dad!). As I grew up, I realized that science provides answers to a lot of my questions and decided that it was the career path I wanted to take. 

When I tell people that I am a woman in STEM their typical reaction is to say, “Oh that must be so hard”. While I am very happy with my decision to enter this degree, science programs have a demanding workload and the biggest challenge that I have faced in achieving my goals thus far is trying to create a balance in my life. It is important for me to make time for the things that I enjoy doing while also doing my best in school. I’ve learned that this comes down to structure and time management. In my free time, you can find me at the rink practicing with the varsity figure skating team or spending time with my family and friends. I also love to ski in the winter months and spend time at my cottage in the summer.  At the end of the day, science is an exciting pathway that I chose to pursue, and I consider the work-life balance to be well worth it. 

On the International Day of Women and Girls in STEM, I would encourage any young girl considering a career or degree in STEM to follow their passions. I would tell them not to be influenced by the statistics about women in science and to never let social constructs or stereotypes stand in the way of their dreams.

Michaela Kluke

My name is Michaela Kluke and I am a fourth year bio-medical science student and co-president of Women in Science and Engineering. I am a 21-year-old female from Northern Ontario and have always enjoyed learning. In high school, I thought I wanted to be a vet and was encouraged by my science teachers and parents to tackle my goals. This helped me decide to continue my education 7 hours away from home, at University of Guelph. Although my career goals have since changed, I couldn’t be more grateful for the experiences I have had.

I chose to pursue an education and career in the medical field because of my first job, where I worked for the Elliot Lake Family Health Team. I was able to see how helping patients could make such a positive impact, and how an inability to answer their medical questions could be frustrating or devastating. When I tell people what I am studying they usually ask “where will this degree take you?” to which I respond, “the possibilities are endless!”. I get excited thinking about the problems I can solve in my future career in public health through my education in bio-medical sciences.

I want young girls hoping to pursue a career in STEM to know that it’s a journey to achieve your career goals so don’t expect anything to come quickly. Make sure to have a long-term plan and stay motivated while working towards it, yet don’t be afraid to have a few back up plans as well.

Jehoshua SharmaMy name is Jehoshua Sharma and I am a molecular and cellular biology MSc. student in Prof. Rebecca Shapiro’s lab. I am an international student from Trinidad and Tobago, and I came to the University of Guelph as an undergrad in 2014.

As an undergraduate student I started iGEM Guelph, which allowed me to learn and practice synthetic biology concepts. While working in iGEM, I made sure that my executive team was comprised of 50% women and that the team itself included 16 women and 17 men. I hope that the female presence on our team encouraged other women (especially BIWOC) to feel comfortable and bring their ideas to the forefront of our group discussions.

Now, as a master’s student, I am putting together a team of graduate student leaders to help ensure that the current iGEM team is led by women. The biggest challenge we have faced in ensuring equal representation on the iGEM executive team has been finding women in STEM who feel they can be leaders. A lot of this work involves finding people who can represent their own demographic and feel comfortable sharing their experiences. Unsurprisingly, some of the women we met did not feel that their experiences were worth sharing, and that is a persistent problem in our field. STEM has traditionally been a white-cis-male dominated space. Improving the number of women in these fields will increase the number of researchers contributing with more diverse perspectives.

As a male in STEM, I recognize that one of the ways I can support women in science is by considering whether an opportunity presented to me would be more appropriate for, or valuable to, a female colleague. Furthermore, everyone benefits when labs are encouraged to accept and train more women. Pay attention to the demographics all around you. To fix inequality, everyone has to play a part to unlearn the internal biases our society has raised us with.

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