February 11: International Day of Women and Girls in Science

A small sample of the incredible work being done at McGill by women in STEM

In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly declared February 11 as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. The day is celebrated around the world as a time to promote full and equal access to, and participation in, science for women and girls.

Unfortunately, full and equal access is a goal at the moment, not the reality.

“Today, only one in three science and engineering researchers in the world is a woman,” said António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations in a statement. “Structural and societal barriers prevent women and girls from entering and advancing in science…. This inequality is depriving our world of enormous untapped talent and innovation. We need women’s perspectives to make sure science and technology work for everyone.”

“I taught engineering. I know from personal experience that young women and men are equally capable and equally fascinated by science, brimming with ideas, and ready to carry our world forward,” said Guterres. “On this International Day of Women and Girls in Science, I call on everyone to create an environment where women can realize their true potential and today’s girls become tomorrow’s leading scientists and innovators, shaping a fair and sustainable future for all.”

World-renowned leaders in their field

There is no shortage of women in science playing critical roles at McGill, beginning with Principal Suzanne Fortier, a crystallographer by training. The University boasts long-standing, world-renowned researchers like Brenda Milner, Vicky Kaspi, Nitika Pant Pai, Catherine Potvin, Elena Bennett, Joëlle Pineau, Doina Precup and Audrey Moores. But early-career researchers such as Anna Weinberg, Daryl Haggard, Erica Moodie, and Jennifer Sunday are already making names for themselves in their respective fields.

Then, of course, there are the students. McGill is the university of choice for a plethora of young women pursuing their studies in STEM. One need look no further than the recent announcement of the McCall MacBain Scholarships. Of McGill’s nine finalists, five are women with backgrounds in science and whose academic interests include everything from dentistry and microbiology, to engineering and medicine.

The trail for today’s researchers had been blazed long ago. We recently profiled Ingrid Birker, Science Outreach Administrator at the Redpath Museum. On top of her duties at the Redpath, Birker has written articles for the Reporter, including profiles of some of McGill’s pioneers:

The 2021 – 2022 academic year has proven to be a busy one for McGill’s female science students and researchers. It started off on an auspicious note when four women were among six recipients of Schulich Leader Scholarships, Canada’s largest STEM scholarship program.

Here are just some of the highlights of the past six months:

September

  • Catherine Potvin, Canada Research Chair in Climate Change Mitigation and Tropical Forest, was named the 2021 recipient of the RSC’s prestigious Sir John William Dawson Medal for her significant interdisciplinary research in conservation biology, social-ecology, policy, and the arts. Read more.
  • A study shows that app-based personalized HIV self-test program HIVSmart! developed by Dr. Nitika Pant Pai at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre leads to rapid detection of new infections and efficient connection to care. Read more.
  • While completing her Master of Science, Public Health, Epidemiology and Biostatisctic, Tammy Bui co-founded at WeCanVax, a health promotion campaign in Parc Extension Montreal aimed at improving vaccine confidence. Read more.
  • Dr. Lesley Fellows, Professor, Neurology & Neurosurgery, was one of six McGillians elected to the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences. Read more.

October

  • In advance of The Great Shakeout, an international earthquake preparedness event, Christie Rowe, associate professor with the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, spoke about the importance of being ready for significant seismic events. Read more.

November

  • Elena Bennett, Canada Research Chair in Sustainability Science, and Vicky Kaspi, astrophysicist and physics professor, were named to the on Highly Cited Researchers 2021 list. Read more.
  • Civil Engineering students Èvane Amico (B.Eng’23) and Evelyn Zhang (B.Eng’22) are working to bring the benefits of green roofs to Canadian cities. Read more.
  • Sarah Woolley, an associate professor in McGill’s Biology Department, was the lead researcher in a study that suggests that dopamine may play a key role in shaping what songs female songbirds enjoy, which may ultimately affect mating as females choose (and then remember) their mates based on the songs they prefer. Read more.
  • Hanadi Sleiman, Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Canada Research Chair in DNA Nanoscience, won the 2021 Polanyi Award for her ground-breaking advancements in the field of DNA nanotechnology and precision medicine to combat major diseases. Read more.
  • Led by Principal Investigator, Vicky Kaspi, the CHIME Fast Radio Burst team wins the 2022 Berkeley Prize. Read more.
  • As part of Fall Convocation, Signy Sheldon, assistant professor in the Department Psychology; Maureen Rose, a lecturer at the School of Human Nutrition; and Giulia Alberini, a member of the School of Computer Science; each won a Principal’s Prize for Excellence in Teaching.

December

  • The top three projects in the impact200 challenge were well represented by women in science programs. Read more.
  • Dr. Madeleine Sharp, a researcher and neurologist at The Neuro, authored a study suggesting the COVID-19 pandemic may have impaired people’s cognitive abilities and altered risk perception, at a time when making the right health choices is critically important. Read more.
  • Work by RI-MUHC postdoc Angela Karellis and Dr. Nitika Pai will impact worldwide guidelines for rapid multiplexed testing. Read more.
  • Prisca Bustamante, a PhD candidate researcher working at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre, won a prestigious Mitacs award for developing world’s first non-invasive blood screening test for early detection of eye cancer. Read more.
  • Christina Wolfson, PhD and Senior Scientist at the RI-MUHC, is the co-principal investigator of the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging. Read more.

January

  • Meiou Dai, PhD and a Research Associate in the Lebrun Lab at the RI-MUHC, was the first author of a study that paves the way to novel treatment for Triple Negative Breast Cancer. Québec Science magazine recently selected the study as one of the Top 10 Discoveries of 2021. Read more.
  • Lisa Dang, a PhD student at the Department of Physics, is the first author of a recently published paper that provides new insights into seasons on a planet outside our solar system. The findings will potentially advance both the scientific understanding of how exoplanets form and evolve and give some context for planets in our own solar system. Read more.
  • Dr. Emily McDonald, a scientist in the Infectious Diseases and Immunity in Global Health Program at the RI-MUHC, co-authored a study assessing all available outpatient therapies for COVID-19 in order to facilitate comparative treatment choice. Read more.
  • Marie-Claude Geoffroy, PhD and Canada Research Chair in Youth Suicide Prevention, has created the École à Ciel Ouvert program that takes the classroom outdoors to help pre-teens reduce depression and anxiety. Read more.
  • Biology professor Alanna Watt and pharmacology and therapeutics professor Anne McKinney have made an important step forward in understanding the cause of a rare neurodegenerative disease noted for its occurrence in the Charlevoix and Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean regions of Quebec. Read more.
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