We are excited that the NSERC CISE program is taking over from the NSERC CWSE program in the Fall of 2023.
WISEatlantic launches a new funding opportunity.
We are excited to announce the launch of the Indigenous-Black-International Science (IBIS) Student Assistantship program. This program enables Indigenous, Black and/or international Science students the opportunity to apply for paid assistantships to work with Science faculty at Mount Saint Vincent University on research projects. Both students and faculty need to apply to be part of the IBIS program. Contact Dr. Franz-Odendaal for more information, Tamara.firstname.lastname@example.org
The Canadian Association for Girls in Science (CAGIS) is returning to in-person events for the 2022-2023 school year!
The monthly STEM club for girls is a volunteer-run organization that provides participants with the opportunity to explore various workplaces and careers with the help of female and gender non-conforming role models. To do so, chapters run events that encourage learning through hands-on activities and experiments, which often take place in the form of workplace visits. In compliance with public health guidelines and out of consideration for our participants, volunteers, and role models, CAGIS events have been held virtually for the past two years. As in-person gatherings become the norm once again, we are excited to bring our Chapter events back to a more familiar format. All CAGIS events will be back in-person for the upcoming year!
The Halifax Chapter is open to girls aged 10-16. Monthly events run from September to June (except December) and will expose participants to a variety of STEM careers and disciplines. Some anticipated topics of exploration for the upcoming year include astronomy, oceanography, psychology, and neuroscience.
To find out more about the Halifax CAGIS Chapter and to register, visit girlsinscience.ca/join/
The Chapter is also currently in need of volunteers to help run and plan monthly events. We are seeking Undergraduate and Graduate Science students from the area who are passionate about encouraging and inspiring young girls to pursue STEM. If interested, visit girlsinscience.ca/volunteer/
Our Junior Girls Get W.I.S.E. Summer Camp was held from July 25th to 29th at Mount Saint Vincent University. Participants spent the majority of the week raising zebrafish, small vertebrates that develop at exceptional speeds. In doing so, we fostered skills relevant to lab work, including scientific drawing, age staging, proper microscope care, and lab etiquette.
Outside of time spent watching the zebrafish grow, the girls engaged in numerous hands-on STEM activities that explored different disciplines; we put our engineering skills to the test with an earthquake-proof tower challenge, learned the basics of computer coding by using Turing Tumbles, and created our own light-up cards using simple circuits. Various sessions were also held by role models and partner organizations. Makers Making Change introduced soldering to our participants and gave them the chance to build their own piece of assistive technology; ICTC ran a session on cybersecurity; and Lockheed Martin provided the girls with the opportunity to try their hand at working with radio frequencies using computers. Furthermore, two sessions were run by members of the Mount community: an EEG session was run by members of Dr. Derek Fisher’s lab and a chemistry session was run by Chemistry and Physics lab instructor Alyssa Doué.
Amidst the hustle and bustle of the hands-on activities, we also held a role model session where participants got the chance to sit down with various women in STEM and ask them questions related to their career and schooling. Some of this year’s role models included a mechanical engineer, a software developer, and a developmental biologist.
We’re excited to announce that the NSERC National Network of NSERC Chairs for Women in Science and Engineering has officially launched a website!
If you’re looking for more information on the Network or any of the individual Chair programs, this is the place to go. You’ll also find resources created by the Network or Chair programs, upcoming events, important announcements and more!
You can visit the new site at: https://stem-inclusion-stim.ca/
Dr. Tamara Franz-Odendaal from Mount Saint Vincent University, the Canadian Black Scientists Network, and Canada Research Chair Dr. Jennifer Adams, are studying the experiences of Black university students and postdocs in STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, and Medicine/Health Sciences) in Canada.
The survey takes 20-40 minutes to complete, and eligible participants will be entered into a draw for a $25 Amazon gift card (1 drawn for every 50 respondents). Want to participate? You can fill out the survey here: https://questionnaire.simplesurvey.com/f/l/CBSNsurvey
This study has been reviewed and approved by the Mount Saint Vincent Research Ethics Board (REB 2021-013)
We are happy to announce that our Career Spotlight Series of booklets is now complete with the publication of the fourth booklet on Women in Computer Science.
You can view and download the new booklet, and the three others in the series, by visiting our Resources page.
We are excited to announce a contest to WIN a spot at our Writing Retreat in June, 2023. Click for more details!
Have a writing project that you need to tackle and are having trouble getting started or building momentum? Then we have the perfect opportunity for you…a chance to win a FREE spot at an intimate writing retreat hosted by WISEatlantic at the tranquil Liscombe Lodge June 14-17, 2024!
Contest is open to women academics (grad students, post docs, faculty) in STEM fields located in Atlantic Canada.
How to Enter:
Email WISEatlantic@msvu.ca with the subject “writing retreat” and include your name, email, and a few sentences about why you are applying. Deadline to apply is April 17.
Please Note: Winners will be drawn at random and notified by May 12. Space is limited, by applying you agree to accept the spot in the retreat if offered. Travel to and from Liscombe Lodge is the responsibility of the participant.
Since its launch on December 25, 2021, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has been holding the attention of scientists, students, and space enthusiasts alike. Notably, Canadian researchers, engineers, and astronomers played a critical role in this $10-billion, 25-year-planned, tennis-court-sized telescope that is providing new and incredible views of our universe.
JWST looks out into the universe in wavelengths that our eyes cannot see. It is an infrared telescope, looking at the heat coming off some of the oldest and most distant objects in the universe, as well as the infrared radiation from neighbouring planets and nearby regions of star formation. The telescope is huge – its mirror is 18 hexagonal segments with an overall diameter of 6.5 meters. As well, its instruments must be kept very cold, approximately -230 C, for them to see the oldest and most distant objects in the universe. To protect its instruments from the heat of the sun, there is a sun shield that consists of 5 thin layers and is approximately the size of a tennis court. It had to be perfectly folded to fit in the rocket for launch, and then needed to unfold itself after launch in space. The side of the sunshield that faces the sun heats up to approximately 85 C, whereas the side with the instruments on the cold side of the sunshield is roughly -230 C!
JWST was a multi-country mission, requiring the expertise of NASA in the United States, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency. Importantly, the Canadian Space Agency contributed one instrument with two necessary components to JWST: the Fine Guidance Sensor and NIRISS.
The Fine Guidance Sensor is the component that allows JWST to stay perfectly pointed at exactly the place it is supposed to look. Without this guidance sensor, JWST would not be able to be still while pointing in a location – all of the stars and objects in the image would be blurred from movement!
NIRISS is an acronym for the Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph. This instrument allows scientists to take images in infrared wavelengths and its special purpose is to split the light from all objects in an image into tiny rainbows of light – spectra. The full spectrum of light of an object allows us to learn about the chemical elements that make up the objects we’re viewing. For example, if JWST is peering into the atmosphere of an exoplanet, we would study the atmosphere’s spectra to learn what elements are in that atmosphere. Here on Earth, our atmosphere has oxygen that we breath – but those oxygen molecules in the air would react with other molecules in the atmosphere and be depleted if they weren’t frequently regenerated by plants and algae here on Earth. If we see oxygen in the atmospheres of distant planets, there might be life there! In the atmosphere of the exoplanet WASP-96 b – a hot gas giant like Jupiter, but very close to its host star – we can see the molecular fingerprint of water, so there are likely clouds in this planet’s atmosphere.
There are many Canadian scientists, researchers, and students carefully looking over new images and data from JWST, and there are new and beautiful images being shared frequently!
At Saint Mary’s University in Halifax Nova Scotia, Dr. Marcin Sawicki is part of a team of researchers carefully looking over the data from JWST. They have recently published an article1 about a galaxy that they call the “Sparkler” galaxy – a large, distant galaxy that we are seeing when the universe was only 4.5 billion years old, or about a third of its current age. Incredibly, they’ve found globular clusters around this galaxy – and these globular clusters look like small sparkles around the galaxy. In our own Milky Way Galaxy, we have roughly 150 globular clusters – clusters of hundreds of thousands of stars, tightly packed together like a ball of stars. These clusters are tricky to study because they’re very, very old objects – generally around 12-13 billion years old, and it is difficult to precisely measure their ages. When we are looking at globular clusters from when the universe was only 4.5 billion years old, it is much easier to estimate their specific ages because it is generally easier to be more precise about an age with a younger object.
In exchange for Canada’s important instruments, which cost roughly $200 million dollars for Canada to contribute (roughly 2% of the overall cost of JWST), Canadian researchers are guaranteed to have at least 5% of the total observing time on JWST’s instruments. There are many programs that Canadian scientists will lead and these are summarized on the Canadian Space Agency’s website.2
Given the incredible images that have already been produced with JWST and its expected operating lifetime of about 10 years (hopefully more3!), there will be much more wonder, inspiration, knowledge, and discoveries to come.
I encourage all readers to follow along with JWST’s journey and newly-released images, available to the public on the Webb Space Telescope website.4
The next booklet in our Career Spotlight Series is here! This booklet serves to highlight the amazing work being done in various STEM fields by Indigenous women in the Atlantic region.
The women featured were selected from a variety of fields to demonstrate the breadth of talent across diverse career paths; these include Impact Assessment Specialist Sara Rumbolt, Biologist Jennifer Sylliboy, Dietitian Janna MacKay, Civil Engineering Student Kalolin Prosper, and Botanist Cheyenne MacDonald. Each scientist discusses their career and educational path, the qualities and skills relevant to their job, the highlights of their career, and the impact their work has had on both themselves and the communities they work with.
The booklet also features additional resources for those looking to explore future career paths, including questions to ask yourself before deciding on a career, questions to ask a role model, and career competencies needed to be successful in whatever career you decide to pursue. Also included is a list of Indigenous opportunities to explore.
You can download the booklet by going to our Resources Page.
I’ve been the Program Manager for the WISEatlantic program since 2013 and during this time I’ve had the privilege of observing hundreds of girls interacting with role models who look like them and who work in all kinds of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) careers.
All our signature Girls Get WISE Events, one-day retreats and summer camps, feature a round-robin style mentoring session where small groups of participants meet and chat with women working in various STEM careers. Upon reviewing the evaluations from these events, where we ask participants to rank all the sessions on a scale from 1-5, our role model sessions average a 4.3. This isn’t surprising to me as the participants often leave this session very excited, and this is above hands-on STEM sessions like coding or extracting DNA from fruit! The importance of exposing girls to women STEM role models cannot be understated. In Canada only 20% of STEM jobs are occupied by women (Perreault et al, 2018), even though women make up nearly half of the Canadian workforce (47.4%). Diversity breeds innovation, it allows for different perspectives and ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking, just what we need to help tackle the important issues of our time, such as climate change. As the effects of climate change disproportionately impact women around the world, we need more women in STEM to be part of the solution. The majority of girls that WISEatlantic engages with are between the ages of 12 and 16, the age when they may be starting to seriously consider what sort of career they may want to pursue. Research with girls in this age group by González-Pérez et al (2020) showed that role-model intervention has a positive and significant effect on mathematics enjoyment, importance attached to math, expectations of success in math, and girls’ aspirations in STEM, and a negative effect on gender stereotypes. This study was done with 304 girls in similar role model arrangements to ours, informal with multiple diverse female role models, and ensuring that role models speak to how their jobs help society. Our own research has also shown that engaging girls in this way significantly impacts their interest in pursuing these professions (Franz-Odendaal et al. 2020). It’s encouraging to have data that backs-up what I’ve seen anecdotally through our own role model sessions; that exposing young girls to women role models in a variety of STEM careers helps them to see themselves in those careers in the future. Here is a snippet of feedback we’ve received from girls at various Girls Get WISE events, this feedback was taken from our general ‘leave a comment’ section of our evaluations: “The role model session helped to round out questions I had about university.” “The Role Model session was really great because you get to explore various careers and see how it worked for those people and how their hard work paid off.” “Really enjoyed hearing about different jobs from the role models.” It can be easy to assume that the girls would be more interested in the hands-on STEM activities during our events, and for some this is the case, but for a good portion of the participants connecting with role models leaves a lasting and positive impression. Another activity that we’ve done with participants, one we call ‘Budgeting for Life’, has been a big hit. In this activity the girls randomly choose either a STEM career or a non-STEM career and plan a budget around the typical salary for their career. The girls use a budget template on Excel and have to account for typical expenses such as rent/mortgage, transportation, food, etc. We have them search for and find a place to live that fits within their budget and discuss discretionary spending. Through this type of activity the girls learn quite quickly the typical salary difference between a STEM and non-STEM job and just how much things cost, which is always more than they expect! We’ve had comments from participants that they wished this activity was longer they enjoyed it so much. I think activities like this paired with exposure to STEM role models can be very beneficial in showcasing the positive aspects of a career in STEM, and hopefully encourage more girls to seriously consider these careers. You may be wondering how YOU as a parent, caregiver, or teacher can assist with showcasing women STEM role models to the girl(s) in your life, here are a few ways:
But above all, encourage girls to be curious and don’t miss an opportunity to show them that women ARE doing STEM jobs, excelling at them, and so can they! References: Franz-Odendaal, TA, French F, Joy, P and Blotnicky K. 2020. Math self-efficacy and the likelihood of pursuing a STEM-based career: a comparative analysis of girls versus boys and the impacts of an all-girls Science camp. Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education. González-Pérez, S., Mateos de Cabo, R., Sáinz, M. (2020). Girls in STEM: Is It a Female Role-Model Thing? Frontiers in Psychology, Vol 11. Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.02204 Perreault, A., Franz-Odendaal, T., Langelier, E., Farenhorst, A., Mavriplis, C., Shannon, L. (2018). Analysis of the distribution of gender in STEM fields in Canada. Version 1.1.
The WISEatlantic Partnerships Program is an opportunity for community organizations in Atlantic Canada to receive a small one-year sponsorship for projects that promote the outreach, recruitment, and retention for girls, young women, and industry professionals in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
In 2020/2021 WISEatlantic granted Fundy Geological Museum a sponsorship to host the Paleontologist for a Weekend Camp. Twenty-one girls participated over the course of two camps in September, which gave participants the opportunity to explore what being a paleontologist is like. Some of the activities included a trip to the Fundy fossil research site, sieving for fossils, using digital microscopes, and preparing fossil casts. Providing campers with the chance to engage in every-day paleontology activities involved the combination of both art and science, in addition to encouraging critical thinking skills. Fundy Geological Museum intends on hosting the camps again in the future.
Diversity of Nature was another recipient of the Partnerships Program sponsorship. Funding went towards hosting two 3-day field camps that brought thirty participants in grades 10-12 together to engage in numerous workshops lead by female scientists. Some of the topics covered included mycology and plant diversity, taxonomic identification, microorganisms and microscopes, and plant pigments and extraction. Additionally, workshops were held on BIPOC leadership and environmental racism, and Indigenous ecological knowledge. Furthermore, Diversity of Nature reached a total of 544 youth from K-12 with a diverse array of STEM programming. More programming is expected in the new year!
Over the last few years I have had the opportunity and honor of interviewing and photographing amazing Atlantic Canadian women in the STEM fields for a WISEatlantic project called the “Career Spotlight Booklet Series”. I say honor, as I was blown away by the talent these women emulated. Each one of them made me feel welcomed (even though I thought I would be intimated!) and all were excited to share with me their educational and career experiences and triumphs.
To date, I have completed two books in the series, “Women in Science” and “Women in Engineering” and presently in the process of completing “Indigenous Women in STEM”. You can find these two booklets on the WISEatlantic website, on the resource page, and they have also been distributed to some schools in Atlantic Canada.
A common theme throughout the interviews was the fact that if you don’t know what you want to do right now, don’t worry! You can always change directions. Just do “something” and the rest will follow, and if you do change your mind, that’s okay too! For instance, one woman I interviewed never intended to be a professor as she thought she was an introvert and hated speaking in front of people, but she found once she had the expertise and experience she became more confident.
Another common theme was that you may think you want to do one thing but may end up doing something completely different and unrelated and that’s okay also. For example, one woman I interviewed thought she wanted to be a veterinarian but when she took a class in Animal Biology she realized it wasn’t for her.
Creativity was also a universal theme throughout. Almost every one of these amazing women had a creative side they nourished including a writer, artist, and photographer.
Other Common pieces of advice included:
I interviewed one amazing lady who had completed a geology degree and then decided she really wanted to be an aerospace engineer so she did and now she is working on designing a new lighter and more flexible space suit at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for NASA.
I also interviewed a Biomedical engineer who is in the medical field researching the maternal make-up of the heart and how heart valves are remodeled during pregnancy. I learned about one female working on a vaccine for ovarian cancer, a biologist who monitors areas for the presence of whales using their sounds, and another woman who is researching new sustainable ways to make better plastics like water bottles.
Did you know that you can get paid while doing your Masters and PhD’s?! Yes, you are going to school but it’s a job too! I also learned that it may seem like a long time in school, but everyone I interviewed said the time goes fast.
When asked about their educational path all the women completed an undergrad degree, Masters degree and most even PhD’s!
Some of the many broad impacts these amazing scientists and engineers have had on society include:
All these women had a vision of equal opportunity for everyone and equal representation, including pay, promotion and gender equality, as well as hope that more women excelled to positions of leadership.
So yes, I learned lots of great things, including Scientists are everyday people and they all want to exceed!
By Jeanette McPherson, WISEatlantic Assistant
From the time she was 17, Wally Funk knew she wanted to be an astronaut. She had an attitude that made her excel anytime she was told she could not or should not do something, and in the 1960s when all NASA astronauts were male, she fought for herself and her colleagues to fly into space as well.
Unfortunately, that never happened. A group of thirteen women advocated for the opportunity to fly alongside the chosen male astronauts. These women were often deemed the “Mercury 13,” a play on the name “Mercury,” the name of the program sending the first astronauts into orbit from the United States during the Space Race between the US and the Soviet Union in the 1960s. Another name for the group, however, was the First Lady Astronaut Trainees (FLATs). These women went through the same incredibly rigorous testing that the male astronauts did. Funk and others even surpassed the males in many tasks. Funk spent more than 10 hours in a sensory deprivation tank to simulate vertigo, and researchers ended the test only due to wanting to go home.
Despite the years of Funk and her colleagues proving they were fit to be astronauts, the United States did not send a woman into space until 1983 with Sally Ride, more than 20 years after Wally Funk fought for a chance to fly. In fact, until the astronaut selection in 1978 (where Ride was selected to be an astronaut, along with 5 other women and 29 men), all astronaut candidates in the US were required to have military jet test pilot experience. Since no women at the time were allowed to gain this experience, they were eliminated no matter what their other qualifications would be.
Wally Funk has been a pilot, a flight instructor, and more. She has logged 19,600 flight hours and trained more than 3000 students to fly. She earned her pilot’s license at just 17 and has a number of other “firsts”, such as first female flight instructor at a US military base. Not until this summer, at age 82, did she finally get a chance to fly into space like she had prepared for nearly 60 years ago.
The space flight company Blue Origin had their first crewed launch in July this year, and company founder (and passenger on the flight) Jeff Bezos asked Funk to join him for the launch. Funk had been a ticket holder on another commercial space flight with Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic, who coincidentally flew their first suborbital flight just days before the Blue Origin flight that Funk was invited on. Despite her being more than qualified, it took capitalistic competition to finally get Funk into space.
In the video released by Bezos after he asked Funk to join him on the first crewed Blue Origin flight, Funk recalls that she repeatedly asked NASA to be an astronaut, but she had been told “Wally, you’re a girl, you can’t do that,” to which she very passionately responded “Guess what, it doesn’t matter what you are, you can still do it if you want to do it!”
In Canada, the first astronaut selection was in 1983, and of the six chosen, just one – Roberta Bonda – was a woman. Of the 14 total astronauts chosen in Canada, just three in total have been women, most recently selected was Jenni Sidey-Gibbons in 2017.
Of all 3772 astronaut applications submitted by Canadians in August 2016 for the 2017 selection, just 24% of the applicants were women, according to the Canadian Space Agency. Having one of two chosen astronauts in 2017 be a woman is a great achievement when only 24% of the applicants were female. The candidates went through many tests, such as team-building tests, endurance tests, cognitive tests, and many strenuous tests to assess their ability to remain calm and productive in stressful environments, further proving Funk’s response that no matter what anyone says, you can do hard things if you want to do them.
When Funk returned from her spaceflight, she said the flight was “incredible.” Bezos described her during the flights as “never nervous,” which makes sense given that she had prepared for years to handle every possible outcome as an astronaut. Hilariously, when there was a 6-minute delay prior to launch, Funk said “Are we going or not?” impatient to go. She said “It was so easy, it was just incredible,” stating “I want to go again” while speaking to reporters after landing.
Funk proclaimed that nothing has ever gotten in her way, and that truly seems to be the case.
By Tiffany Fields, WISEatlantic Educational Assistant
Diversity in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) drives innovation and creative ideas in the field, because people with different backgrounds and perspectives can find new ways to solve problems. Increasing representation and inclusion of marginalized groups in this field would increase opportunities for these groups and advance equity. Moreover, increasing participation of different groups in this field would grow the field overall, contributing to the economy and scientific advancement. However, STEM fields have historically been male-dominated and associated with masculinity in the minds of many. While there is a substantial body of literature on women’s inclusion in science, LGBTQ+ representation in STEM is something we know less about.
A new study by Cech and Waidzunas (2021) details the disparity in STEM experiences between LGBTQ+ people and their straight counterparts in the US. In surveying a sample of 25,324 full-time STEM professionals, 1,006 of whom were LGBTQ+, they found LGBTQ+ individuals were having worse experiences in STEM across a number of dimensions. The factors they examined were career opportunities, harassment, professional devaluation (colleagues devaluing or discrediting their STEM expertise), social exclusion (not “fitting in” or being invited to things), health and wellness, and intentions to leave STEM.
LGBTQ+ individuals in the sample had fewer perceived career opportunities and less resources. They were also less comfortable “whistleblowing” (i.e. reporting harassment or discrimination without retaliation). Significantly more LGBTQ+ individuals in their sample were experiencing professional devaluation and social exclusion. LGBTQ+ respondents were more likely to experience harassment and negative mental health effects, and significantly more LGBTQ+ respondents were considering leaving STEM than their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts.
These authors also did an intersectional analysis and found that transgender and gender non-binary respondents reported more health and wellness issues, and were more likely to consider leaving STEM than their cisgender sexual minority counterparts. Similarly, LGBTQ+ women and LGBTQ+ individuals of colour were more likely than LGBTQ+ men and LGBTQ+ white individuals, respectively, to experience harassment and professional devaluation at work.
Though North America has come a long way in terms of marriage equality and other LGBTQ+ rights, this evidence shows us there is still more work to be done to include LGBTQ+ individuals equally and equitably across all sectors of society. Moreover, more research needs to be done in Canada, as most of the current literature is based on US samples. WISEatlantic is currently conducting research with Canadian LGBTQ+ postdocs in STEM, so stay tuned!
There are several organizations focused on LGBTQ+ inclusion and visibility in STEM, which can be checked out at these links! There even is one in Atlantic Canada, QAtCanSTEM:
By Drew Burchell, WISEatlantic Research Assistant
Cech, E. A., & Waidzunas, T. J. (2021). Systemic inequalities for LGBTQ professionals in STEM. Science Advances, 7(3), eabe0933