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 the Mount on research projects. Both students and faculty need to apply to be part of the IBIS program. More information on the program can be found HERE.
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 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.
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
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
Career experience in adolescence is one of the most crucial building blocks of life that many individuals do not have the opportunity to encounter. For the age groups of 12-16-year olds, experience is what derives conversation in order for them to make career decisions in high school that will impact their future.
Discovering mathematical talent or falling in love with human anatomy, can influence minds and allow students to discover their passion. But, the lack of exposure to a range of different opportunities can limit students to only certain or “main” career options that they may not be interested in. Specifically, although the representation of women has increased in areas of STEM, there is still a significant lack in areas such as engineering. I previously read that women made up 34% of STEM bachelor’s degree holders and only 23% of science and technology workers and are under-represented in these fields. Due to this, it is evident now more than ever that opportunities must be presented to young women in order to expand their knowledge on incredible STEM career options.
One of the most incredible opportunities that I took part in and allowed me to expand my interest in STEM was the Girls Get WISE Science Summer Camp. The camp was a week-long event that exposes young women to the sciences, technology, engineering, and math. The activities were so valuable because they were educational along with enjoyable. In particular, some of them included hatching and growing zebrafish, learning basic coding, the process of welding, forensic science, engineering challenges and over 10 more activities. In particular, the zebrafish lab was one of the unforgettable STEM activities that I participated in. The lab activity allowed the campers to view and assist in the process of hatching zebrafish eggs. We learnt about the temperature they resided in, the parts of the embryo, and even basic lab rules. It gave youth such as myself the opportunity to use petri dishes, pipettes, and microscopes. The exposure to a biology lab at a young age allowed me to be more informed when I entered the Pre-IB program in high school. Although my biology class was fast paced, I was able to easily catch up because I knew how to use a microscope and understood the safety rules of a lab that I learned in the WISE camp. Another activity included welding with the NSCSC. In my mind, welding was just a small job done by construction workers, but what I did not know is that it is one of the most important pieces to an industrial site. All the campers and I got first-hand experience on wielding through a VR simulator that gave us an understanding on the level of difficulty. The camp was an absolutely incredible experience and the hands-on activities made it worthwhile.
By Shabad Kaur
Science communication is a growing field. Its purpose is to educate the general public on science issues or research that is relevant to them, so they are able to form educated opinions and decisions. Our world is evolving rapidly around us, whether it’s the newest technological innovation, species or disease, the topics are endless. We are in a time where scientific changes happen every day and for us to be able to thrive and adapt to these changes, we all need to understand what we are up against.
People are flooded with information from so many different sources whether it’s through newspapers, television or social media. This means that as scientists, we need to communicate our information effectively so that our message resonates with the public. Social media can be a great medium for positive connected communication, but it has also changed how society interprets scientific facts. Opinions are now taken at face value and everyone seems to be the expert, except the real experts! This is a huge issue that needs to be addressed and using effective science communication will help. The public deserve evidence-based facts so they can form their own educated opinion on topics that effect their everyday life. Communication is a complex human interaction that can be easily misunderstood, which is why science communication is a crucial type of communication. Using clear, concise science communication allows the public to have access to relevant and understandable science-based information.
People wonder why scientists even need special science communicators to relay their messages. Why should they need other people to share their work? A good scientist should be a good communicator. This is a lesson that could be taught along with cell theory, organic chemistry and Newton’s laws in Science degrees. The whole point of Science is to discover new things and share them with people. The reality is that not everyone understands complex science (often because it is full of scientific jargon), but that doesn’t mean their right to understand should be taken away. Science communication is a field that is always developing because science is ever evolving. Science communication creates lots of room for collaboration and it utilizes creative ways to incorporate science literacy into everyone’s lives. The fact of the matter is that science is in everyday life, you cannot escape it. So, becoming educated on the relevant topics is essential.
Science communication provides a non-confrontational, universal way of communicating information that is important for life on earth (and other planets). The world is changing and so shall we, but we need the right information shared in the appropriate way to adapt to the changes we face as humanity. Science communicators should be a crucial member on political advisor teams, product development, Public relations teams etc. This world is developing, it is time we develop with it.
Here are some great resources if you are interested in learning more about Science Communication:
By Molly Murray.
Molly is a BSc. Science Communication student at MSVU and the WISEatlantic Communications Assistant