Today’s #FeatureFriday is dedicated to honouring this wonderful woman, who I am so sad we lost last week. . This is Dr. Maryam Mirzakhani, award-winning mathematician and personal hero to many - especially Iranians, women, and mathematicians around the world. . Whether or not you understand her topics of research (moduli spaces, Teichmüller theory, hyperbolic geometry, Ergodic theory and symplectic geometry … ???), her passion for diving into the unknown is undeniably contagious. She was described by her colleagues as, “ambitious, resolute and fearless in the face of problems others would not, or could not, tackle. . Mirzakhani was quoted saying, “You have to ignore low-hanging fruit, which is a little tricky.” She said she enjoyed pure mathematics because of the elegance and longevity of the questions she studied, but that “you have to spend some energy and effort to see the beauty of math.” . Though she acknowledged her tendency to take the harder path, Dr. Mirzakhani is reported to have described herself as a “slow” mathematician. I’ll trust her mathematical proofs, but I find that claim difficult to believe... . She grew up in Tehran, Iran, and she won several gold medals as a teen competing as the first woman on their International Mathematical Olympiad team. She did her graduate studies @Harvard, where she solved two longstanding problems in what is described as a “masterpiece” of a thesis. As faculty @Stanford, she was continuing an exciting legacy of theoretical research studying the geometric and dynamic complexities of curved surfaces. . At age 37 in 2014, Dr. Mirzakhani made history when she was awarded the prestigious Fields Medal, which is considered as the mathematical equivalent to the Nobel Prize. She was the first woman to receive the Fields medal since its inception in 1936, to which she said, This is a great honour. I am sure there will be many more women winning this kind of award in coming years. . I find her perseverance, creativity, humbleness, and passion incredibly inspiring. And I know her memory will live on eternally in all who are also committed to finding new truths. Rest in beautifully numeric peace, Dr. Mirzakhani.
A special #FeatureFriday inspired by the #ScienceMarch: . While many marchers were people with academic science degrees, I want to highlight how science is about more than a degree and that scientific *thinking* belongs to ANYONE who wants it. . Including the intelligent being in this photo! . This is my wonderful new friend and fellow science marcher Kenzie Brenna, creator and self-love warrior extraordinaire also known as @omgkenzieee! Kenzie represents what the march was really about for me: helping EVERYONE feel included in science. While Kenzie doesn’t have any formal science training, she is super passionate about evidence & applying a scientific mindset to her life in a really unique way. . See, Kenzie has played a huge part in building a community of people who challenge each other to critical reflections for self improvement. In particular, she is a student and teacher of self love. . Maybe that sounds cheesy, buuut: ▪️when was the last time you gave someone else praise? ▪️when was the last time you gave yourself some?!? . We live in a world where self love is a bit of a radical idea, and it takes a lot of work to change that! . A lot of bogus trends in health & beauty prey on our insecurities, & Kenzie does a fantastic job empowering others to reflect on whether it’s really worth buying into these notions. Each of her posts are a little experimental challenge & muse for reflection. She thinks philosophically and psychologically but writes in a raw and honest way that is super relatable, which helps unite people on a common journey to a better truth no matter where they’re starting from. . Kenzie is an amazingly kind and ambitious woman with a contagious entrepreneurial spirit. One of the things I respect most about her is that she quite literally embodies the idea of being a champion for others. She’s been a huge source of inspiration for me, + a quick scroll through her feed will show you that I’m not alone with this! . . You don’t need a degree to practise a scientific mindset! All you need is the willingness to critically evaluate your surroundings & if you have that, I really hope you’ll share it with everyone because it's beautiful & important!!
Today’s #FeatureFriday is @agnes.soos - biomedical engineer and former Varsity rower with a lot of good things to say on perseverance & perspective. . Agnes is almost done an exciting PhD @uoftengineering, where she’s worked with various stem and progenitor cells to engineer patient-specific blood vessels. That way when someone needs a bypass surgery to replace diseased arteries, we don’t need to struggle to find donor blood vessels - we can just make what the patient needs in the lab from their own cells. . While she loves her science, she also admits it hasn’t always been easy to do (& she isn’t alone on that!). But she says, “Don’t focus on mistakes or failures; these happen in life all the time & they don’t define who you are as a person. We all stumble: failure isn’t unique to you or anyone. Just take a moment to reflect on what you’ve learned from the experience and use that to move onto the next thing!” . Of course this is easier said than done because, as she adds, “grad school is with you all the time, you usually can’t just take the weekend off, and it’s always in your mind because there are no clear set deadlines.” . “So do multiple things you enjoy. Not everything goes super well all the time, and we all need a backup plan to perk us up now and then.” It sounds simple and obvious but think back to the last stressful day you had… I bet the first thing you cut out of your schedule was your yoga class or dinner plans. . Agnes also rows with her crew from @uoftrowing. She says, “I really enjoy rowing because lab work is often very independent, but with rowing you’re in a boat with multiple other girls and you’re all working together towards a common goal. You have to be completely focused and in the present moment with your team (not thinking about any lab-related things!) - it’s the only way to really make the boat fly through the water!” . “You can’t rely on success in the lab alone for your entire self worth, & sometimes all it takes is another small activity to give you a sense of accomplishment and remind you that you’re not a failure just because some experiments fail. It's not you - there are more mysteries in science than we think!
Today’s #FeatureFriday is @hamidehemrani, a passionate scientist turned science writer and loving mother of 2 inquisitive boys. . Hamideh & her husband moved to the US from Iran when she was 20. She had been studying dentistry but had to re-start her undergraduate education in the US, which she did @UCBerkeleyOfficial. This was back in 2002, and the recency of Sept 11th made it extra difficult for Muslims to fit in. . “Some people suggested I stop wearing my scarf to make things easier, but there are many personal and cultural reasons why I wear it and it has become such part of my identity. Removing it would be like giving into the stereotypes, so I’d rather wear it as a statement that a peaceful, science-loving person can still wear a scarf.” . Thanks to several supportive people & lots of hard work, Hamideh found her fit: in the front of the classroom teaching biology & chemistry, at an internship @Stanford, & then as a Masters student in a stem cell lab in Toronto. . She became pregnant during her masters and says, “I wanted to prove to myself and everyone else that being pregnant and having kids wouldn’t affect my research, but it got tough. I’d wake up extra early so I could get my morning sickness out of the way and still show up to the lab on time.” . Her 1st son was born just a few weeks before she defended her thesis. She stayed home with him for 2 years, then decided to go back to school to do her PhD. “I had romanticized the idea of finding a cure for MS (multiple sclerosis), which has affected people close to me.” . So she started her PhD, but never got to finish it. A few years in, she had her 2nd son, but this time the pregnancy was really challenging and left her with complications even after his birth. She wanted to continue but personal health complications added to the challenges of being the mother of a 9 month old & a 3.5 y/o proved to be too much to take on, so she decided to pursue her passion of science outside of the lab. . “But I don’t want to paint myself as a victim, because anytime something bad has happened to me there has been something else positive enough to help me overcome it. Please keep working hard & have hope in humanity.
Searching for stem cells 🔬 but also for future #FeatureFriday people! . I haven’t posted one in a while, but that is definitely not due to a lack of wonderful people in science out there! Ironically, I’ve been too busy being a woman in STEM to feature women in STEM haha. Anyway, I have a few in the works right now, but want to diversify and expand the series beyond my personal network, so I ask you: . ✴️WHO DO YOU WANT TO SEE FEATURED?✴️ . Nominate yourself, a friend, or role model below 👇🏼 and I’ll get in touch with them when I can! I want to share as many stories as possible about people in science, technology, engineering, and/or mathematics who are kicking ass at challenging the “scientist” stereotype. . This series is more important to me than ever in the current times since it aims to: • inspire the future generation by letting them know that they don’t have to fit a mould to fulfill their ambitions • change out-dated assumptions about what someone’s appearance says about their intelligence • remind everyone that scientists are just normal, relatable people who happen to be searching for truths -- you can trust us! . . The link in my bio has some examples from past features, but all suggestions welcome regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, location, etc. Thanks for helping me share this good message! ❤️ xo . . EDIT: thank you for all the suggestions, everyone mentioned seems amazing and I am excited to reach out to them all 😍 (though it'll take some time to go through!). Keep em coming! ❤️
#tb to a week ago when I spent several days in a row in the dark microscope room trying to gather some last bits of data for this conference! . I've been having fun talking about a lot of different things related to science through this account - we discuss stereotypes about scientists with the #FeatureFriday posts, exchange biology knowledge on #ScienceSunday, and recently started evaluating new health and beauty trends with #ScienceSays posts. I absolutely LOVE instagram for science communication and am so impressed with the community here. . I met an excellent science communicator @fromthelabbench who does research on how we communicate science, and she was kind enough to interview me for her blog! . Please check it out if you want to learn more about my motivations with this account, and read more about what Paige has learned about perspectives on scientists and science engagement. She's always looking for more communicators to chat with so send her a message if you're an interested scientist! . Link in bio 😊
Today’s #FeatureFriday is one of my biggest academic role models, beautifully illustrated by my request by the talented @stumpycomics as part of his scientist portraits series. . In the past when I have faced academic challenges, I think of Rita Levi-Montalcini & borrow some of her strength to keep pushing through. I never met her and unfortunately she passed away a few years ago so I never will, but I think anyone who says “f^*& it” to an obstacle and pursues their goals embodies her spirit. . RLM went to the University of Turin medical school until 1936 despite her father’s initial hesitation. While there, she became interested in how the nervous system develops, and remained at the university to do research for several years. . Early in her academic career, however, harsh laws were passed in Italy that barred Jewish people from holding academic and professional careers and she lost her position at the university. . So what did she do? Set up a secret laboratory in her bedroom, of course! She studied the development of the nervous system using chicken embryos using whatever supplies she could get. When her town was eventually invaded during World War II and she had to flee south to Florence, she set up a second laboratory there. . While helping the Allied health services during the war, she continued her secret research on developmental biology. In 1946 she was taken into a research laboratory to further validate the experiments she had done at home, but that early work with less than the bare essentials and a war erupting around her laid down the foundation for her eventual Nobel Prize. She won a Nobel in 1986 for her discovery of Nerve Growth Factor, and opening up a whole body of research on how molecules can stimulate the growth of nerves during development and diseases like cancer. . One of my favourite quotations about her, from a brief biography released following her death: . ‘She had no children and never married, fearing such ties would undercut her independence. I never had any hesitation or regrets in this sense, she said in a 2006 interview. My life has been enriched by excellent human relations, work and interests. I have never felt lonely.'
Today’s #FeatureFriday is my former classmate from undergrad & soccer teammate @monica_em14! . Monica is currently a passionate medical student @uoftmedicine. She says, “I first realized I wanted to be a doctor in high school. I was super passionate and excited about science but also loved interacting with & learning about people, so medicine is a union of both.” . But she didn’t rush into it; after her undergraduate degree, Monica decided to pursue a master’s in neuroscience. “The year after undergrad is very formative. I gained a lot of insight during my master’s about who I am as a person and what kind of doctor I want to be. There’s no one right way to go about things. As long as you pursue what you enjoy, you will end up where you are meant to be.” . Now in med school, her immediate response to me asking how it's been was, “I love it. A lot. I finally feel like I’m in a place in life where I belong. I wake up everyday excited for what I get to do.” . Monica strives to be the kind of doctor who makes personal connections. “It’s very important to me to make that connection and ensure each patient genuinely feels they are being cared for as a whole person.” . Talking to Monica I have no doubt she will make an incredible doctor, though sometimes it seems not everyone is ready to accept the changing face of medicine. For example, she says, “I’ve walked into a patient’s room with a male classmate and they’ll automatically defer to him & address him as ‘doctor’. Or make assumptions that because I am female I must be the nurse. It’s all very subtle but pervasive.” . & I can’t say this kind of subtle sexism is at all unique to medicine -- I face it all the time, as do many of my girlfriends in a variety of workplaces. . Fortunately Monica has surrounded herself with many supportive communities, including teammates in the many sports she plays. A former varsity athlete and #NikeToronto Run Club pacer, she says, “sports are a great outlet if you’re stressed, great way to stay healthy, & an amazing/fun social hub.” . So no matter who tries to stop you, keep pursuing your interests and replace each negative person along the way with someone/something equally supportive.
It is my pleasure to share insights on being girly, balanced & grateful from today’s #FeatureFriday, @TaviaCaplan! . Another awesome woman in @mogen_uoft, Tavia is researching how to improve antifungal drugs. She wants to find helper molecules that can be added to current drugs to make them more effective against pathogenic fungal infections from Candida albicans. . We all have fungi like Candida inside us; in fact, fungi are an important part of the gut flora that are often overlooked! But in people with a lowered immune system from chemotherapy or HIV, our Candida can become pathogenic. This doesn’t mean you need to do a ‘cleanse’ to get rid of the Candida in your body, just that Tavia’s research needs to continue to be supported. . Tavia chose to pursue science because she felt it would challenge her everyday, but not everyone thought she’d be up for the challenge. “On my 1st day of gr 11 physics, my teacher told me I was going to fail... then I got the highest mark.” . “People consider me very ‘girly’, so when I did well in school they’d be shocked - they didn’t expect anything from me. But I’ve also had so many people at each stage support me, including other high school teachers, trailblazing profs @uofguelph, & current labmates.” . Tavia’s family are her biggest champions. When I asked her about role models, she instantly replied, “my mom is #1! She was the first in her family to get higher education and is the most intelligent person I know.” And her mom has impacted many others through a long successful teaching career. . Though Tavia loves to be busy, she also loves being with her family. “I’m really organized and schedule everything, even personal time. That way I can be fully present when I’m with my family.” . “We all feel invincible, but I’ve realized how important it is to the live in the moment and take everything as a lesson. Anything can happen and change our lives forever, and there will have been so many things we took for granted. I used to always focus on my future, but now I think of what I already have. It’s important to realize what we have and be happy in the moment we’re in instead of always waiting for the next milestone to be happy.
It’s my pleasure to introduce another gem from the #STEMsquad as today’s #FeatureFriday: @ErinWinick of @sci_chic! . Erin is an athletic undergraduate student studying mechanical engineering at the University of Florida who is also the owner of a successful business, Sci Chic! . Like most engineers, Erin always loved to build things - Lego towers, robots, and Rube Goldberg machines (I had to google that last one…)! She also loved sewing and teaching so she decided it was time to combine all of her passions in the form of @sci_chic. . “Sci Chic is on a mission to show that science is an art form full of beauty.” Using 3D printing and other technologies, Sci Chic lets people “explore the fashionable side of science” through beautiful and customizable jewelry and shirts. . Erin uses her engineering skills a ton in her business. “An engineering degree can be used for so much more than we think. At its core, engineering teaches intense problem-solving skills that are valued across many areas.” . And of course she has faced with many challenges juggling a business and courseload, but “we all have the same amount of time in our lives, and we each set different priorities. I’ve [made some sacrifices] but I am really happy with my choices and am proud of where they brought me.” . “The new people I’ve met have made this an amazing experience so far, from little kids fascinated by what we do, or other awesome technology bloggers from around the world; they have all been so inspiring to me and motivated me to keep going.” She also says that in times of doubt, her local chapter of the Society of Women Engineers offered tremendous support. . What’s next for this superstar student? Erin’s been working hard to complete her degree this December, while also launching a new product line for Sci Chic! They’re starting 2 monthly subscription boxes - 1 for kids, another for adults - that’ll be filled with science-inspired fashion, jewelry, wearables, and accessories plus educational materials. . I think it’s amazing Erin has managed to become such a role model, educator, and advocate for STEM so young, and I hope she inspires you to not let age, degrees or anything get in your way.
At first glance, this picture is no different than any other on Instagram (especially on a Friday). . But there are a few things about it that make it pretty special, which is why I’ve decided to make it today’s #FeatureFriday post. . This photo was taken last Saturday at the Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego, shortly after all the people in this photo met for the first time! We had been brought together by an online community called “The STEM Squad,” which is a facebook group for information-sharing between female-identifying people in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (“STEM”), such as the people in this photo who I’ll describe below. . On the very left is @sailorpatch, neuroscience grad student from Torino currently on an exchange in Washington. She studies the special properties of neurons in the brain that allow them to communicate with one another. . Next to her is Rachel, who I knew prior to this meetup. Rachel has been my biggest mentor as she was a senior PhD student when I joined my lab and she trained me on everything I needed to know (+ more). Rachel now works for a funding agency, helping to make sure Canada’s best research in neurodegenerative diseases gets the money it needs. . 3rd from the left is @amybelfi, postdoc in the Dept of Psychology at @nyuniversity. Her research is in the field of neuroeesthetics, which I talked about a few posts ago for a Science Sunday. She is trying to understand how the brain perceives aesthetic experiences like art and music. . In the middle is @sarapoptart, a graduate student at @ucberkeleyofficial. She’s a PhD student in computational and cognitive neuroscience trying to understand how sound and visual information are represented in the brain. . Next to me is Christine (@christineliuart @twophoton), the founder of The STEM Squad. She’s a PhD student @ucberkeley studying how nicotine affects the brain and started The STEM Squad 3 months ago, and today the group had its 400th member join! There are daily insightful discussions and posts being shared, & I encourage you to join if you want to meet other people in similar fields going through similar struggles on the quest for success!
Today’s #FeatureFriday is @salvadore88, 4th yr & Chief resident in Pediatric Neurology in #Montreal. . Salva was drawn to medicine because it was the perfect blend of academic rigor while being personable & compassionate. She knew she wanted to be a doctor from a young age, & chose Pediatric Neurology after volunteering with children, always feeling like a kid at heart, and being, “mesmerized about how much we don’t know about the nervous system.” . Salva was an early supporter of my IG because we share a passion for science and how it, “promotes openness, constant doubt and uncertainty, and pushing to be better to make the world a better place.” She says, “When I see artwork or read a book or see a fantastically put together outfit, I think, ‘daamn that human - with that phenomenal matrix of synapses and neurotransmission that we don’t fully understand - has created that aesthetic…that is AWEsome!’ . This appreciation has partly been inspired by her work. “Medicine reminds you every second that life is fleeting…our cells replicate and mutate, our bodies can falter and take us to a whole new reality within seconds. I am much more mindful of the present now, I live moment to moment, laugh uncontrollably with patients and their families, cry when words fail, and prioritize my health.” . But everyone has tough days. “You can eat poorly for a week, not exercise for a month, have a devastating outcome in a patient you’re looking after, not call your mom for a few days…the key is to start the next day anew, & try again.” . For #inspo, we both love @MichelleObama. Summarizing a NY Times article on the #FLOTUS, Salva says, “Michelle influences policy while dancing with Ellen, raises independent and grounded children while rapping, is an Ivy League graduate with an affinity for fashion… she rocks the concept of a self-defined, balanced woman.” . Salva herself has also been an inspiration to myself and those that I admire. She is a compassionate, smart, funny, dependable, artistic woman who values every bit of life right down to (her words), “the tomato at the supermarket.” . To end, Salva quotes, “you have two lives, the second begins when you realize you only have one.
Today’s #FeatureFriday is @bgry5! I know it’s a little different than usual, but trust me - it’s a lotta good. . He says, “I like that your posts have been centred on women in science. I’m a feminist so I want to be featured to showcase that I have the same values; that I understand feminism and agree with the message of supporting each other. And to show that both men and women support that.” . But also, the goal of my #FeatureFriday series is to show people that anyone can be a scientist, and that we need to rethink stereotypes. So this extends beyond just #womeninSTEM - I want to advocate for all underrepresented groups. . Ben says, “as a gay man I'm not always taken seriously. People think I’m funny and air-headed, but actually I’m smart and should be taken seriously. Women are also treated like they won’t be as good in STEM as men, and I think that’s a stereotype that follows gay men too.” . I asked Ben whether he tries to downplay gay stereotypes related to how he speaks and dresses. He replied with a firm and confident, “No.” . “I’m proud of who I am and should be respected for it. I make a conscious effort to try not to change the way I speak.” In terms of fashion, “We should look professional, but we’re also young and not in a field where we need to wear a suit and tie so it’s fun to play around.” . Ben’s fun side extends beyond his fashion sense. “I am addicted to reality television. I have a little white dog named Chappy who I am obsessed with. I like to follow #basicbitch trends, and I love making seasonal goals. I think it’s easier to focus on things in smaller chunks of time than a new year’s resolution.” . “Short-term goals give me something to look forward to. I can easily become obsessed with work… I did in undergrad and it gave me a lot of anxiety. So I like to do fun things so I don’t get in my head.” . He lives a very fun and social life, but still does tons of kickass research. Ben studies the way that cells grow and divide to better understand what goes wrong when cells divide too much in diseases like cancer. He does a lot of high-throughput microscopy and automated image analyses to discover which proteins in cells are important for this.
I am so excited to introduce you all to the beautiful soul that is today’s #FeatureFriday. Her name is @DrKarenRing and we connected in June after tweeting a bunch from the same conference! . In the last 4 months that I’ve known Karen, she has been a daily dose of motivation and inspiration. After having done a ton of awesome research during her PhD at UCSF and then Postdoc at the Buck Institute, she is now working in science communication at @CIRM_stemcells where she gets to make sure all of the important research being done on stem cells gets explained to the public and other scientists in fun and understandable ways. . Karen has had a lifelong love of science, initially sparked by many conversations with her scientist father about science and research. Unfortunately a diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease led her dad to end his scientific career a bit early, launching Karen into a passionate pursuit of research, communication, and education. She decided to research making human brain stem cells in a dish, and creating brain stem cells from patients with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s in order to test new therapeutics in a dish. . “When you feel helpless because someone you really care about is sick, you can learn about it and figure out what’s being done to help those people. My goal is to educate patients on what we know about diseases and their treatment options.” . Karen’s commitment to empowering people with science extends beyond her job; she also tweets, instagrams, and even co-hosts a science podcast with @drmikeographer. She had a very successful PhD but says, “No matter how much you study a process scientifically, if you can’t communicate your findings to the general public, your work isn’t really going to matter in the end.” . Karen is incredibly social and gets lots of practise explaining and relating to others. We ended our conversation talking about all the other activities she loves to do like rock climbing, hiking, and wine tasting, and she echoed the same sentiment as my post from earlier this week by saying, “it’s good to have other things that you’re really passionate about. “Be a nerd about a few things!
This week’s #FeatureFriday is one of the kindest & most inspiring people I’ve met on social media so far, Dr. Thomai Dion aka @TDthesciencemom. . Thomai is an eternal student & teacher; her formal academic training earned her a doctorate in Pharmacy. She worked for 5 yrs in business strategy at a pharmacy-focused company, delivering patient education & quality healthcare through the development of products & services. She says, “I felt like getting into a large company would be a great opportunity to deliver the biggest impact.” . When she found out her family would be growing, she decided she wanted to give being a full-time mom a try. And full-time science communicator. And children’s book author! (She literally does everything & if I hadn’t interviewed her via Skype I would still be convinced she’s a robot!) . I think women are often taught they have to choose b/w a career & their passions OR having children. But Thomai is a great reminder that choosing to stay home with your child doesn’t mean you are giving up on your personal ambitions. She adds, “As long as you’re doing what you sincerely enjoy – science or being a mom or both – then that’s the most important thing.” . And she is definitely doing both! On her #IG, @TDthesciencemom posts stunning photos that remind us of what it’s like to explore things for the first time with the curious eyes of a child, throwing in some science where you least expect it. . Her experiences as a science mom inspired her to create materials to help others engage their children with science too. She has written 4 beautifully illustrated science guidebooks for kids, all available on @Amazon. She wants to expose her son & other kids to science early on so that later when they study it in school they are confident & excited instead of overwhelmed & bored. And she obviously has a knack for it because she told me one time she caught her son running around yelling, “MITOCHONDRIA!!!!” . While I always feel pressure to choose between seemingly competing interests, she left me with some lasting mommy wisdom: . “You can do it all, just not all at once. Dreams do not have to end, you are never trapped - it’s just all gonna take time.
Today's #FeatureFriday is @NShakiba, someone I've had the privilege of working with for the past few years. She's that person who you almost want to hate out of envy for how hard-working she is, but you can’t because she is way too kind and wonderful. . After completing a bachelor’s degree in engineering science, one of the toughest undergraduate programs @UofT, Nika pursued a PhD in biomedical engineering. She says, “I didn’t want to do engineering at first because almost everyone in my family is an engineer, but I could not find the balance I sought in science and math in anything else. I wanted to study biology but with the rigor and logic that math brings; there’s a certain beauty in math that we don’t get in all areas of science.” . Researching an interdisciplinary field is a less traditional route, but she says, “follow your passion and make your own niche. I wanted to be unrestrained to use my skillset in a different way so I could pick my path and push the boundaries of what we know.” . So despite what her engineering training might have taught her, she hasn’t always chosen the path of least resistance (#sciencepuns). But I think her tremendous success and bright future are a testament to what a good guide passions are. By constantly challenging herself and pushing her limits, she has maintained a beautiful sense of motivation and purpose: “I live my life in pursuit of a paradigm-shifting look at the world. I want to to lead a life of boundless discovery.” . But how do we remind ourselves of our long-term goals when we really just want to throw every glass flask in the lab on the floor, frustrated by another failed experiment? Nika says communicating her science to others keeps her pushing on. For example, “that humans come from just one fertilized cell - pretty much nothing - and develop into something like this … it’s like magic. I get excited about it all over again every time I explain things like that to someone else.” . She told me, “I really admire people who dedicate themselves to anything, not just science. Just to perfect whatever it is you love. It’s really inspiring for me.” . I agree completely. & few personify that sentiment more than Nika.
Meet today’s #FeatureFriday: a blonde makeup fanatic in Louboutins who loves Drake. . While we’ve been taught to assume all that means her head is empty, it is as full of brains as her operating tables were when she was a neurosurgery resident at a top clinic in the US. . As a young ambitious fashionista, @FashionSurgeon knew what she wanted and worked her ass off to get it - even when that meant attending 4:30am rounds everyday before class as an undergrad. She recalls, “everyone either thought I was a joke or they were threatened by me,” but she still graduated top of her class & got into her dream neurosurgery residency. . She worked 100 hrs/wk as a resident but always put her patients 1st. “What’s special about neurosurgery is you have patients for the rest of their lives. I felt like I could really make a difference b/c I was empathetic & had a different mindset than my peers. For some doctors the humanity is lost in all the long hours and paperwork. But I felt privileged to be a part of these life changing moments in my patients’ lives.” . She was giving her whole self to being the best doctor she could be when out of nowhere she got incredibly sick. Knowing she could no longer give the quality of care she was committed to, she decided to change paths. . “Being a patient was awful, but I’m a much better doctor because of it. Having an MD doesn’t mean you have to practice in a clinic. There are a lot of other things you can do.” . One being patient advocacy. But b/c she’s an over-achiever, she’s also helping create better treatments for the “untreatable”. She is the Chief Medical Officer for a #SanFran-based #biotech #startup, where she & her husband @brainsurgerydropout have vowed to kick Glioblastoma’s ass! . No stranger to long hours, she says, “you don’t ever really have a day off, business never ends. But the difference is it doesn’t feel like a job.” . You can read more about her awesome life journey so far on her blog fashionsurgeon.com, but some parting words: . “You can have beauty & brains, style & smarts. People can’t always reconcile my resume with how I look, but that’s their problem. No matter what, just be who you are all the time. Always.
Today’s #FeatureFriday is extra special because it’s of my new friend @msmickyk who is celebrating her bday today! . It’s also a bit unique because while Micheline is still a biologist, her work with science is done outside a lab (hence the setting for the photo!). Micheline works as a Conservation Engagement Coordinator, where she manages several forms of engagement with nature conservation across the country. . Micheline says, “I knew I wanted to be a biologist before I even knew what that meant. I loved being outside and learning about different species.” While doing her Biology Specialist degree @uoft, she took a few plant courses and, “really got into plants,” as one does (seriously! they’re cool!). . Micheline is multi-talented, and runs an insightful blog called MyLittleGreenFoot.com. Her little green thumb certainly came in handy for her lab work where she had to grow hundreds of Chinese cabbage plants for a study she was conducting on aphids, a common pest in agriculture. She also got sent abroad to do a research project in Trinidad, and in both cases got to witness the wonder of rapid evolution before her eyes. She studied how the evolution of a given species changed due to environmental circumstances or, for her aphids, climate change. . She glowed when she talked about her days doing field research. Since I’ve never done field research myself (all my work has been inside a lab), I asked her to share with me a little more about her experiences being a woman of colour in general and in her branch of STEM, and was so glad she did. What was a long but incessantly riveting conversation can be summed up well with her insightful words, “the problems [many women and marginalized groups face] are not so much about individual acts of prejudice, but rather a system that perpetuates both gender and racial injustices.” . Her advice for bettering the environment is also applicable to social justice: “I want people to stop having an out of sight, out of mind perspective. The actions we take here and now negatively affect people in environments all across the world, and we all have the power to make a change.” Even ‘just’ one person can change a lot. . 🌱🌳🌿
Today’s #FeatureFriday is this fitness and movie lover from Montréal, @annaflicka! . Anna definitely had a less traditional path to her PhD. She studied media arts when she was younger (animation, photography, and film), and went to Concordia for a design art program. After a few years she decided to switch majors to biology. Perhaps not too surprising given that she says, “I loved the discovery channel as a kid and I was always interested in biology.” . After her undergrad she took a year off school and worked as a research assistant in a computational lab using metaproteomics to study the metabolism of microbes in the Atlantic Ocean. During that year she thought more deeply about what she wanted to do, and her interests led her to Toronto and @MoGen_UofT. . I was curious if she ever wondered about what her life could’ve been like had she not made such drastic changes. She told me, “you can always ask what if I had done this or that? We always wonder what life would be like in a different path. But you can’t really know so you might as well do the best you can.” . I love how open Anna is talking about things that have and have not worked for her, and we reflected on how research could stand to be a bit more like that. . Research has become so competitive that we are often only encouraged to share our success stories but skip all the troubleshooting and info about experiments that failed. But, as Anna says, “It’s important for people to know what others have and have not tried.” Unfortunately that doesn’t always happen. . “It all has to do with the funding issue. You need to publish in order to get research funding. In order to publish everything has to look super linear and clear. So you leave out things that make the story more complicated, but that might have been useful to someone else.” . Anna has become very passionate about this idea of more #openaccess science over the course of her PhD so far. She studies a protein that is often misregulated in many types of cancers, but it’s been hard figuring out exactly why and how it is involved with cancer because it appears to be involved too many complex processes for 1 person to figure out alone. .
A lot of people say they want to change the world by making it a better place... As optimistic as I am, it’s not often I'm convinced they’ll actually succeed. Today’s #FeatureFriday is @nayantharaudugama, and she’s one of those people I believe will. . “When I first started grad school, it was a bit weird that there was only one other girl in a lab of 20 people, but I didn’t notice at first because that’s what I expected engineering to be like. Luckily my lab experience has been amazing. Everyone is very helpful and friendly and our lab really fosters great science.” . “But I do think it’s important to balance male/female ratios. Different people bring different perspectives to science. They offer different creativity. Plus, if you don’t have enough representation in a field then people start to think that maybe women aren’t capable, and that can lead to negative stereotypes.” . But of course we are capable of science, though it’s as tough for us as the next guy. “There are a number of times you fail at things in grad school: your experiments may fail, you may not get your scholarships... But the best part of grad school is it teaches you how to overcome your failures. Now I don’t get as stressed when something that I wanted to happen doesn’t.” . . . Buddhisha’s PhD research is in diagnostics, where she aims “to make a device that we can send to the developing world so patients can just give a drop of blood and find out what their disease is, if any.” . She uses tiny nanoparticles, called quantum dots, that emit different colours depending on their size to simultaneously detect multiple diseases. They look awesome and will do awesome things, too, once her lab is done perfecting the system. Different people in the lab work on different aspects of this project, and Buddhisha’s role is to figure out how to transport the device, make it reproducible, and easy to use. . . She can do it. So can you! 💪 . . #sciencesamFF
A few weeks back I had the pleasure of interviewing my name twin @esteves_sam. After playing with her lab’s “gene gun” for a ridiculous amount of time, we got talking about grad school. . While a lot of people might think scientists are the people in undergrad were super bookish and loved studying, if Sam and I are at all representative we can vouch for that not being true at all. Though Sam studied subjects she really loves in undergrad (math, astrophysics, and ecology), she says, “I was really worried about grad school in my final years because I hated undergrad! It was so dumb: swallow these words, regurgitate on a test, get good grades. Repeat.” I agree… mega snore. . Fortunately for us, grad school is super different. Sam says, “the amount of freedom you have to do what you want to do, the freedom to explore what you want [is amazing].” This freedom gives you space to think creatively and really stretch your analytical and philosophical muscles to their limits. . As I’m hoping this #FeatureFriday series has been showing, a lot of us also like to flex that creativity in the direction of our personal style. Sam says, “I actually think about how I’m going to display my wardrobe to the people around me. [And in professional circles] maybe I won’t wear 3 different patterns in one outfit or have a three foot bow on top of my head.” . But at the same time all of the women I’ve featured, including Sam, still push that limit as much as we can. We want to challenge the stereotype of a scientist just being some old white dude with messy hair in scruffy, outdated clothes. We are sometimes artistic, stylish, athletic, musical… just like everyone else. . While the scientist stereotype is present in the media, Sam pointed out that, “these judgements of stereotypes for science also come from within.” And upon reflection I realized it is true that there is a lot of pressure from within the community to be (or not be) a certain way. . But I think it’s worthwhile for us to keep pushing the envelope as much as we can. And if we get a little too creative or experimental and things don’t work out, Sam’s ultimate frisbee team motto applies: “don’t be sorry, just be better.
Today’s #FeatureFriday is seeker-of-all-rahmen @monicazwu! We chatted about self-doubt, perseverance & tiny, tiny worms! . As Monica is approaching the end of her PhD, I asked her to share some of the biggest things she’s learned. Believe it or not, she says one of the biggest lessons biology researchers learn has nothing to do with DNA or cells; it’s just that, “SCIENCE INVOLVES A LOT OF FAILURE.” Most experiments never work, all answers lead to more questions, and something as small as a sneeze at the wrong time can blow a month’s worth of work. Monica says, “you have to persevere in hard times. You have to keep on trying and doing, and maybe adjust your way of thinking a little bit to tackle your problem.” . But repeated failures can breed uncertainties and self-doubt that do not keep us motivated. When I asked Monica if she ever felt much discrimination, her reply was surprising but familiar: “the main thing that held me back for a while was not other people’s perceptions of me, but actually more of my own perceptions of myself. I was always unsure if I was good enough, smart enough, creative enough, working hard enough...” Many people might relate to these feelings of “imposter syndrome,” and it’s definitely not unique to scientists. . If you’re feeling inadequate, there’s some hope -- if you seek it. “What really helped me become more confident was identifying and capitalizing on my strengths and I worked really hard to stop comparing myself to others. Everyone has a unique skill set that makes them awesome!” . Now noone doubts her abilities both in and out of the lab, where she is discovering the function of a gene noone has ever studied before using the microscopic worm, C elegans. She says C elegans “is not really the sexiest organism to work with, but it offers a complete animal model that is really easily manipulable.” The gene she studies is part of a really important “gene family” that plays important roles in regulating which genes are active. She’s found that her gene makes a protein that is unique in that it can interact with a variety of other regulators, and could potentially offer a really nice tool to control gene regulation in the future.
I am very excited to introduce you to today's #FeatureFriday! She's my good friend and constant source of personal support & inspiration, @amandaveri! . As one of the biggest advocates for #womeninscience I know, Amanda and I discussed the sad reality that not all women have each other’s back, perhaps because, as the #flawless @chimamanda.adichie says, “we raise girls to see each other as competitors.” Amanda and I can both think of too many times when other women have tried to bring us down for personal gains, when both of us really believe, “we're supposed to help build each other up, not break each other down.” . Because if women don’t advocate for each other, who will? Who will respect us and take us seriously if we don’t lead by example first? It’s all too common to hear women talk down about other women for wearing too much makeup, dressing uniquely, being outgoing, wanting or not wanting kids, etc … But this doesn’t make anyone look good and we can’t imagine it makes anyone feel good either. She says, “It is beneficial for everyone if women work together instead of against each other.” . I think Amanda embodies this philosophy amazingly, and it seems she’s learned it from the best: “I really think I'm still in science because I've worked under some of the most badass women who do the unthinkable in balancing being complete rockstar scientists by day and kickass family women by night, while always having time to mentor and support young scientists.” . Amanda is definitely another example of a wicked women who does it all. In the lab, her very collaborative research focuses on a type of fungus called Candida albicans. I’m super scared of infectious diseases, so she freaked me out when explaining, “Fungi are part of your ‘microbiome’ and are found everywhere, including a ton in your mouth! Most people don’t know that they can cause disease, but they can, particularly when people take antibiotics and destroy a lot of the bacteria that normally compete with fungi for space and nutrients and keep it at bay.” Thankfully, she is trying to understand how Candida switches from this neutral form to a devastatingly infectious form.
Today’s #FeatureFriday is my wonderful creative friend, Taraneh (@ch00ism)! She’s as skilled at the lab bench as she is at the canvas, and is obsessed with biking, beer, and Bjork. . I was stoked to ask her about 2 of her many passions: science & art. She told me, “science doesn’t influence my art directly, but my attention to detail and being a very observant person are two qualities that I think are super important in both art and science. . “People always ask me if I see myself more as a science brain or art brain, and it frustrates me to be put into just 1 category when I equally care about multiple things. It’s hard for people to imagine scientists as having more than one dimension. I’d like people to recognize that science is a really creative enterprise, and there doesn’t have to be a science/art brain dichotomy anyway.” . Outside the lab, she does beautiful watercolour paintings, captivating sketched portraits, and takes such wicked photos that whenever I want a new desktop image I just lurk her #flickr - all of which can be found at ---------------------------- T A R A N E H Z A R I N . C A -------------------------- . Inside the lab, she’s interested in how “flexible” evolution is. Since proteins help cells perform all their functions, their structure is generally thought to be very rigid and important for their function - so much so that even wildly different organisms have proteins with similar structure and function. . Taraneh, however, is digging deep into this dogma and studying the parts of proteins that are NOT rigidly structured - so called “disordered” regions, which I was surprised to learn still perform important functions. The DNA and protein sequences that instruct for these regions tend to be really variable, so Taraneh is studying how much these disordered regions can change through evolution while still keeping their function. . This is a relatively new and abstract field of research that I bet will rise in popularity fast, especially with superstars like Taraneh working on it. You saw it here first!
I am stoked to have my good friend from undergrad @qiulily on the #FeatureFriday today! She’s someone I’ve spent as many late nights with studying as partying, and she broke down the real purpose of this whole series beautifully in our interview. . For example that “People need to realize that how they picture scientists is not exactly true.” The first reason I started this series was to show people that scientists aren’t all like Sheldon and Amy from #TheBigBangTheory, and empower those who may not have a lot of visible role models they can relate to. . The second reason I started it was to help bring scientists down from their isolated “ivory tower” so we can be more relatable to those not in science. There is a ton of pseudoscience and science-denying floating around and I have a feeling that people might trust science more if they knew more about the people doing it and that they could be easy to talk to. . Lily told me, “a lot of people assume I’m not in science because I go out and have friends and do a lot of very “normal” things. I get a lot of surprise when I say I have my Master’s in science. There’s a sense of over-impressiveness about me like, ‘omg you’re sooo smart’ – but no I’m a pretty normal person!” . We definitely don’t want to seem foreign or elitist, or that we don’t value knowledge outside of science. But we do want people to know when our knowledge is particularly useful. “Science teaches you good ways to navigate the world. The attitude for successful science is that you have to be committed, rigorous and wade through biases to have integrity and to find the kernel of reality. Science has strengthened my ability to look at the world more critically and find truth in it, and never take the easy way out [even when it’s inconsistent with what you initially thought was true].” . She applies this skill to her research on the development of sex differences in the brain using mouse models and fancy MRIs to map out how male and female brains grow differently over time. This is extra interesting because many psychiatric disorders manifest differently between males and females through development. . Cool girls doing cool science everywhere! 👍
Today’s #FeatureFriday showcases this brainy blonde bookworm @kkwolfe & the conversation we had about being unapologetically yourself. . Kristin is one of the most well-rounded and passionate people I know. In addition to full-time research for her PhD, she works an evening job to make extra money to enjoy her life with the art and fashion that she loves. As if that’s not enough to keep her busy, she reads a library’s worth of books a week and volunteers at a community garden where she teaches kids how to grow produce. . Even though her #aesthetic involves #neutrals by choice, she still stands out in the science crowd. “I’ve been aware of the challenges of being a woman in science for a while. The 1st comment people make to me - despite knowing my capabilities - is usually about my appearance. When you’re young, you think it’s a good thing but that changes when you get older.” . Kristin tried to blend in by not wearing lipstick, opting for glasses instead of contacts, and leaving her heels at home. But she says, “as time went on I realized that responding [this way] to my concerns about how society perceives women in science actually perpetuates it. Being honest to yourself even in an environment that wants you to be someone else allows you to be an authentic person who can be happy with who you are & what you’ve accomplished. So I just think that if I have to work harder to prove myself, I don’t care, I’d rather be myself.” . In the lab, Kristin’s research is focused on creating therapeutic antibodies against tumour cells. Antibodies are normally released in the body to target foreign substances, like a cold virus. Since antibodies are good at targeting things for destruction, it’s thought they could be used as a treatment against diseases like cancer. Unfortunately, cancer cells have some proteins on their surface that limit the efficacy of antibody treatment, so Kristin is engineering antibodies with a new design so they can better fight against cancer. . For those who can relate to this story, here’s one last badass quotation from her: “People say you have to work like a man to get to the top.’ No. I want to work like a woman [& get there *because* of it].
Under the #FeatureFriday lens today is athlete and scientist extraordinaire @linsmithh! . Lindsay got hooked on science while doing her undergraduate training @QueensUniversity, where she did research in a #biochemistry lab studying antifreeze proteins in plants. While her lab was filled with great female role models, they were some of the only females in her research community. . Lindsay was actually kind of used to being one of the only girls around because she grew up a hockey fanatic. This girl was skating by the time she was 5, and despite once getting a broken arm and a dislocated shoulder, she played hockey almost every day in competitive leagues with guys who didn’t always think she belonged on the ice. When I asked her how she holds her own playing with people 3x her size, she said, “yeah I’m smaller, but that just means I have to play smarter and faster.” So what she lacks in height she makes up for in speed and wit, and she really doesn’t see her stature as a disadvantage. . Lately she’s also gotten into lifting weights and says, “I like pushing myself and always striving to be a better me. I love the feeling of getting stronger.” She’s cute and all but believe me she is tough as hell! . When she isn’t building muscle at the gym, Lindsay is actually studying building muscle in the lab. Her research focuses on muscle development and muscle diseases using tiny and shiny zebrafish as a model. She is particularly interested in the part of muscle called the “T-tubule,” which is the structure that transmits neural signals in order to cause muscle contraction. Muscles are essentially bundles of fibres (“myofibres”), and each myofibre cell has millions of T-tubules. In some cases of muscle disease, the patient can barely perform normal motor functions like moving, breathing or eating, and she hypothesizes that this may be due to errors in T-tubule development that make them unable to pass along the signals needed for muscle contraction. By understanding how T-tubules normally form, she can determine where this goes wrong in disease, and identify potential ways to fix it. . #womanstrong
An extra special #FeatureFriday today for the extra long weekend featuring these 2 beauty & brainy #ScienceSisters @elle.si @n.p_s. . I knew I had to feature them both, but it was their idea to do it together. In a world where we encourage girls to compete with one another, these two badass brainiacs wanted to show everyone that true success happens when ambitious women work together and help each other out. . These 2 #womeninscience work on the same floor in my institute in some of the biggest and most competitive labs in the city, where they have a fabulous collaboration studying how proteins interact with each other in normal and diseased cells. They are ambitious, smart, and super successful researchers who are simultaneously challenging the stereotype of the unstylish scientist. . Natasha describes her PhD research by saying, “humans are made of cells that carry out their functions using proteins. There are many different types of proteins present at different levels in each cell type, which is important for different cells having unique functions. There’s a group of enzymes called “deubiquitinases” - DUBs for short - that control protein levels in each cell. If these enzymes don’t work properly it can cause a whole bunch of different types of diseases.” She uses yeast to model the different ways these DUBs can malfunction to try to find safe drugs that can fix them and hopefully resolve the disease that developed. . Laura is a computer whiz who is absolutely obsessed with evolutionary biology. Her PhD research explores “how proteins have evolved to allow life to become more complex.” She studies a class of proteins called transcription factors that turn genes on and off. Mistakes in this process are often at the root of cancer and other diseases. There are a ton of proteins floating around in each cell so she is using cutting-edge biotechnology to find out how proteins come into contact to work together. . While both Laura & Natasha are each amazing on their own, they’re even better together. Next time you’re going to shoot someone down or compare yourself to someone negatively, think of these 2 and try raising those around you - & yourself - up instead.
What do mushroom risotto, athlete’s foot, and beer all have in common? >>>>>>> They all contain some form of FUNGUS! While the word “fungus” usually brings to mind some sort of mushroom, yeast - the single-celled critters critical for making wine, beer and other delicious bevvies - are also a part of the fungi family. . & with that, I am stoked to introduce you to @gottalovekd00 for this week’s #FeatureFriday: “Fierce Fun with Fungi!” . Fungi infect billions of people and kill at least 1.5 million people a year, often those with a lowered immune system due to AIDS treatment or chemotherapy. Kwamaa studies a particular type of fungus called “Candida albicans”, which changes its shape in order to infect people when a prime opportunity arises. . Kwamaa looked through > 2400 mutant versions of this fungus trying to figure out which genes are critical for Candida’s ability to turn into the evil, infectious form that causes infection and devastating complications in patients. Even though she is still in just the first year of her graduate program here at @UofT, she has already sifted through her 2400 mutants and identified 11 promising candidates that can’t transform and therefore can’t infect. She’s hoping that this will help her figure out how Candida changes its shape to cause infection so she can identify drugs that can be taken as medicine to prevent infection in future patients. . Looking through thousands of mutants is no easy task, but Kwamaa is no stranger to perseverance and hard work. She says, “Since I was a kid my parents told me explicitly that I have to be twice as good, that I can’t be mediocre and would never get a pass for just being average. They were really extra about school and grades because [as a young female] you kind of have to be “excellent” to be acknowledged as good.” . Her parents are a definite inspiration for her - whether or not she’ll admit it all the time. Her mother managed to raise three kickass kids after newly immigrating to Canada, all while completing her Master’s and PhD in a time where there weren’t many #womeninscience. So I agree with her when she says, “there’s really no excuse to not do something - if you want it enough.”
“Things will bounce back; you have to make the most of what you have and find your way, but you can always bounce back.” . This is @shukshre - a role model who I am also so lucky to call a dear friend. She is one of the few people I know who can balance a healthy social life and multiple extracurriculars, beat anyone in a dance battle, and kick ass at science. . We sat down for a formal interview and I was super surprised to learn that she was apparently turned down a whole lot in the past. For example, she told me she didn’t get into any PhD programs when she first applied. “It seemed like such a horrible situation back then, but I made the most of it. And eventually, what seemed like the worst situation worked out so well: I got into an excellent Biomedical Engineering program the next year, got a great scholarship and was able to fund my own PhD. Now I love what I do, and I feel I’ve found my calling in life.” . While it’s still hard for me to believe anyone ever said no to this wonderful woman, she explains to me that as an international student from India, the applicant pool was large and spots limited. But I’ve never met anyone more grateful to be here. When I asked Shreya about how she felt winning the most prestigious graduate scholarship in Canada (the Vanier), she said, “I want to show I’m grateful and give back to people who have let me into their country and given me the chance to do my PhD through their tax dollars. And I’m proud of the fact that I’ve gotten to the point where I can patent my technology, commercialize it, and that a company in California wants to try it out. I didn’t want to leave research until I reached this point where I feel like I have produced something that can give back.” . & give back it will! She says, in my scholarship application I promised I would create T cells (special immune cells) for HIV therapy and now I’m going to a job where I am going to do just that. It took 8 years of PhD research but I feel at peace.” . The next time you think you have no options, look back to those times in the past where it felt like the worst and you still came back. . Perseverance & positivity. Smarts & smiles. #FeatureFriday
“It’s important that people do what they want to do, and I love doing this.” I am so excited to launch my #FeatureFriday series with the kind and clever @jessicalacoste. When Jess was a kid she wanted to be a popstar, but eventually traded in her microphone for a #pipette. And good thing she did: Jess tells me that only 5% of rare diseases currently have a treatment, so her research hopes to start fixing that by finding out what’s different in diseased cells. The real workers of the cell are small proteins, so she’s looking through 3000 different mutations that cause rare diseases trying to find out which rare diseases might be due to proteins being in the wrong spot in a cell. Then she can test whether putting the protein back in the right place might help with the disease. In the US, a rare disease is one affecting less than 200,000 people, and they often don’t get funded to be studied a lot. Progeria, a disease that results in “young aging”, is an example of a rare disease Jess’ work may help us better understand.
#sneakpeek of my photoshoot of the ever clever and lovely @jessicalacoste for my first #FeatureFriday, which I'll be debuting next week! The series will feature an inspiring and fierce woman in science each and every week. Stay tuned and please holla if you'd like to be featured next! :)