Women in Research

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In honour of International Women’s Day, we shine a spotlight on a few of our incredible women who are making waves with their research. We asked these women about what led them to their career, the people who impacted them, and the challenges of being a woman in science.

CCfv IWK 2015 063Dr. Karina Top, MD

Current Research: Multiple projects focused on vaccination of “special populations”. Including patients who have had vaccine adverse events, patients with weakened immune systems (such as after chemotherapy or organ transplant), and pregnant women.

Biggest Influence Going into Science: Family, coming from a long line of researchers and physicians. “I was encouraged to ask questions about the world, which often prompted lengthy, detailed answers about how the natural world and the body works.”

Biggest Obstacle to Overcome as a Women in Science: “I think among the biggest obstacles to overcome was my own self-doubt about my abilities. That has improved over time, but as with many academics, I continue to experience “imposter syndrome”. Women tend to struggle with this more than men, but I know men who struggle with lack of self-confidence and imposter syndrome too.”

“Many girls and women are interested in careers in science – they make up the majority of undergraduate, graduate and professional students in life and health sciences. The problem is the “leaky pipeline” – more women than men will leave science at each step along their career path. Support for girls to pursue advanced STEM courses in high school and university, as well as mentorship and strong female role models, can help. This includes supporting women with families by encouraging parental leave for both parents, ensuring the availability of affordable childcare, flexibility in work schedules, and providing opportunities for couples and families balancing two careers.” 

“I have seen a real shift in conversations and policies in the last few years and while we have a long way to go, I’m optimistic that we are moving toward equity for women and other traditionally under-represented groups in science.”

Dr. Alana Munro,

Current Research: The maintenance of labour analgesia, chronic pelvic pain and psychiatric outcomes associated with labour and delivery.

Biggest Influence Going into Science: Daughter of two pharmacists and the psychiatry research nurse she had during undergrad.

Biggest Obstacle to Overcome as a Women in Science: “The competition involved in applying to medical school and anesthesia residency were certainly obstacles. However, my largest obstacle was when I had my first child in my final year of completing anesthesia residency. I struggled with the guilt of caring for a newborn baby while needing to study for my board exam. The impact of nursing, childcare, and lack of sleep were challenging.”

“I feel very fortunate to be in a department that is very accepting of female clinicians and researchers. My site department chief, as a female and mother, has been influential in my ability to balance academic, clinical and personal commitments.”

“Role models were extremely helpful for my advancement in research. Mentoring junior, motivated women could help them recognize their potential and show them opportunities available. Building a network of colleagues with similar goals both professional and personal could help women advance their scientific career.”


sandrameierDr. Sandra Meier, PhD 

Current Research: Using modern technologies to improve the clinical care of youth with mental health issues

Biggest Influence Going into Science: “I was very lucky that many of my professors encouraged me to become a scientist. For a very long time, however, I was reluctant to consider that idea, as I felt I couldn’t fit into the world of science. It wasn’t until I met my Ph.D. supervisor that I truly felt working in science could make me happy. So, while she was not the reason for me to start working in science, she was my first role model to continue to do so. After that and over the years I met a lot of wonderful people that confirmed for me that science is really my thing.”

Biggest Obstacle to Overcome as a Women in Science: “It always felt like that it was easier for men in scientific discussions to express their opinion and their work. As a woman, it seemed that you had to be more indirect and gentler even if this was not about opinions but presenting scientific facts. In contrast, nobody seemed to mind when my male colleagues were voicing their opinions very strongly. As a consequence, I learned to choose my scientific battles wisely. On the bright side, however, it helped me to embrace and ameliorate a cooperative, integrative, and tolerant working style.”

“One of the major prejudices I had to face during earlier stages of my career (at least in my field of study) was the expectation that women can’t possibly have a passion for statistics and complex mathematical modeling. Applying them in research studies was something that I quickly took a liking in during my time as a psychology master student. It seems that I was able to overcome these prejudices with passionate work, patience, and indulgence. While these are always great features in human beings, no matter whether they are women or men, it seems that especially for women they are more often required to a degree that seems sometimes unnecessary.”

“The loudest voice in the room should not be able to dominate the conversation. Many brilliant women only take part in discussions, when they are sure their opinion is actually getting heard and that there is room for an active exchange of ideas. I am convinced that if we can create a softer tone in science, we will attract more women to science.”


Dr. Isabel Smith, PhDDr Isabel Smith by Scott Munn crop

Current Research: Nova Scotia’s Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention (EIBI) program for preschoolers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Biggest Influence Going into Science: “My most immediate model was my mentor, Dr. Susan Bryson, an extraordinary clinical scientist who introduced me to research in ASD.”

“Also, curiosity! A lot of my favourite reading as a child was about science and scientists. My family had a great Time-Life series of books that fascinated me, and I loved to read biographies of scientists – I remember reading about Pasteur, Fleming, and particularly Marie Curie. Curie’s story was probably appealing because she was a woman in science and because my father was a radiation oncologist. I assumed I would also become a physician.”

Biggest Obstacle to Overcome as a Women in Science: “I am extremely fortunate in that my husband assumed the primary role at home when my children were young, otherwise the tension between home and work demands would have been an enormous obstacle for me, as I know if it for many women. Of course, a career in science is easier for men, and part of the difficulty is the impression that some areas of science are more highly valued than others – the “hard” and “soft” science distinction. I can’t but think that part of the prejudice against ‘soft’ sciences, of which psychology would be considered one, is that more women work in this field than in physics, for example.”

“Better education of all children (not just girls) by people who understand science and who don’t perpetuate stereotypes, more positive examples/role models in all media. Then, in terms of professional support, even more, concerted efforts to equalize pay and other incentives, to reduce the discriminatory effects on women who choose to have children, and to award grants and promotions based on merit.”