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Speaker Series Session 2: SCIENCE

Updated: Aug 16, 2020

Author: Fariha Khan, Co-founder

Speaker Series Session: 2

STEM Topic: Science

Speaker(s): Dr. Ananya Banerjee, Christina Paruag, and Saadia Sarker

Our second session was held on May 30th, 2020 and featured three very special speakers under the branch of Science - Dr. Ananya Tina Banerjee, Christina Paruag, and Women in STEM’s very own co-founder Saadia Sarker.

Before we dive into the advice shared by our speakers, let's take a look into their backgrounds and experiences for context:

Dr. Ananya Tina Banerjee is an Assistant Professor in the Divisions of Social & Behaviour Health Sciences and Epidemiology at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto. She is a public health scientist, professor, epidemiologist, health promoter, and kinesiologist. Given her public health research on diabetes prevention for the South Asian communities, Dr. Banerjee naturally had a lot of insight to offer into the field. South Asians have the highest risk of diabetes. During a discussion portion, our participants suggested this was a result of diet, genetics, lack of exercise, and overall lifestyle. While all of these are correct, Dr. Banerjee provided a more exhaustive list which included causes such as income, class, immigration status, mental health, trauma, social support, built environment, green space, and recreation facilities - all of which don’t immediately come to mind when we think of causes but definitely play a role. Under her guidance, the South Asian Adolescent Diabetes Awareness Program (SAADAP) is the first of its kind in Canada created for South Asian teenagers who have a family history of type 2 diabetes. The program works closely with youth to teach them what they need to do to avoid developing diabetes as they get older.

Our second speaker, Saadia Sarker, spoke to her experiences in regards to research and public health. Earning her B.Sc. in Molecular Biology, Immunology & Disease and Environmental Science from the University of Toronto, Sarker currently works as a Clinical Research Analyst at Toronto General Hospital. There, she researches kidney diseases and facilitates clinical research, engages patients in public health awareness and knowledge translation projects across Canada. Alongside research, she is involved in public health advocacy and policy work on issues such as mental health, vaping and most recently COVID-19 with the Youth Health Action Network (YHAN), Toronto Public Health and Young Ontarians United (Y.O.U.). Her relevant interests include infectious and chronic diseases, public health, climate change, knowledge translation, and youth health advocacy. In high school, she took advantage of work-study options in various labs, joined multiple clubs, research competitions, and advisory boards. She continued to network to build her skill in research and public health, while seeking out mentors to guide her professional growth.

Our third speaker, Christina Paruag, is the founder of FemEvolve, a business and events consulting agency, and the organizer of Toronto Professional Women’s Meetup. FemEvolve helps grow businesses or events through tips, strategies, and interviews. She has a combination of experimental and clinical research experience in radiation therapy, breast cancer, epilepsy and stroke. She previously taught science to children and teens through a program called Visions of Science. She graduated from Ryerson University with a Bachelor of Science in Medical Physics and went on to have her thesis published in the Journal of the European Society for Radiotherapy and Oncology. During her undergraduate studies, Paruag was diagnosed with a condition called endometriosis, which led her interest in business and to create a print and digital magazine focused on science-based health and wellness information for women. Paruag is also a public speaker and former Miss World Canada judge.

During our panel discussions, we try to discuss and gain advice on a variety of topics from academics to navigating male dominated environments. We’ve compiled everyone’s advice into a list:

  1. You don’t always have to say “yes.”

  2. Don’t miss opportunities. Reach out to people and take risks. Ask to meet-up or chat and the worst thing that could happen is they’ll say no. They may email back later on and let you know when an opportunity is available.

  3. Try something new!

  4. Look through university websites for programs for high school students and do not be afraid to reach out to a professor.

  5. COVID-19 has opened up a lot of opportunities to allow people to come together. There are a lot of leadership opportunities as well. All of this helps with scholarships and applications for school or special programs.

  6. Find events to network through - Facebook or Eventbrite have events that you can search through. You can get speakers’ email and connect with them.

  7. Look into building your skill set through free online courses/webinars

  8. Understand that showing up is the first step.

  9. For school: form study groups with friends and anyone willing to collaborate, attend office hours - they really help, study ahead of the semester if possible, stay organized and use time-blocking, be open to academic accommodations if you really need them

  10. For research: papers are your best friend in forming your initial hypothesis and formulating your study - helps to get it published, and find someone in your lab or office to learn from and ask questions.

How can men play a more active role in helping reduce gender gaps?

  1. Take an intersectional lens - we need more male colleagues to be champions

  2. Bring men into events and involve them in discussions. Have them listen to the barriers women face in these environments

Click here to view a list of resources our speakers provided for opportunities and knowledge/skill growth.

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