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The value of female mentorship for women and girls in science
8 minute read

The value of female mentorship for women and girls in science

Summary:

On International Day of Women and Girls in Science, female mentors and mentees share how female mentorship plays an important role in shaping their careers.

In honour of the United Nations’ (UN) International Day of Women and Girls in Science on February 11, we heard from some mentees and their mentors from The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) on how female mentorship has shaped their careers in science, the importance of female mentorship for women and girls pursuing a career in science, and how female mentorship can help improve diversity of women in science. Scroll down to read about what these women had to say – in their own words.

The SickKids Committee for Women in Science and the Research Institute Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Office are also recognizing this special day with exciting and timely virtual events. “Women who tweet: using social media to help put your science (and your career) on the map” invites trainees, staff and faculty involved in science to participate in a virtual session focused on advocacy and knowledge transfer to enable women in science. The program will include short presentations from leading women researchers using social media for advocacy in science. After the presentations, there will be a panel discussion on knowledge translation, using social media in medicine and science writing.

SickKids is also showcasing the documentary Picture A Scientist, which chronicles the groundswell of researchers who are writing a new chapter for women scientists. This event will also include a panel discussion.


Drs. Teresa To & Chengning Wang

Mentor: Dr. Teresa To, Senior Scientist, Child Health Evaluative Sciences Program, SickKids; Professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health; Director, Ontario Asthma Surveillance Information System
Focus: Asthma epidemiology and long-term childhood asthma health outcomes

Mentee: Dr. Chengning Wang, Staff Paediatrician, Mackenzie Richmond Hill Hospital; Lecturer at University of Toronto
Focus: Hospital paediatrics and community paediatrics

How has female mentorship shaped your science career?

Dr. Teresa To: My mentor was a female scientist whom I trusted and who helped build my career. I learned from her what it took to combat stereotyped attitudes towards career women and their leadership, and how important it is to put effort in supporting each other instead of competing against each other. While it is important to overcome biases and barriers, it is equally imperative to be compassionate, understanding and kind.

Dr. Chengning Wang: Soon after I immigrated to Canada, I introduced myself to my mentor. Since then, she has been a role model, mentor and dear friend and I've felt so fortunate to have a mentor like her to support my career path in Canada. Female mentorship provides me with an approachable role model in the real world, whom I can ask for advice at any time. It has certainly helped build my confidence that I can be excellent as well!

Why is mentorship particularly important for women and girls pursuing a career in science?

Dr. Teresa To: Women take on primary and multiple roles and responsibilities at work and at home. Establishing and maintaining work-life balance is the key to a healthy path to success at work and at home. A mentor who has “been there” and “done that” may help guide others in finding the right balance.

Dr. Chengning Wang: There are still hidden inequalities in career opportunities in our society. Mentorship provides strong support, both psychologically and realistically, to female trainees to help them overcome barriers in career development.

How can mentorship help improve diversity for women in science?

Dr. Teresa To: Though women have come a long way, historically, the field of science is male-dominated. Mentorship offers guidance and support to women and helps them be better prepared to assume leadership roles and to identify and secure sponsorship.

Dr. Chengning Wang: Based on cultural background, women and girls may not be as open in expressing their ideas and opinions. Mentorship helps to encourage female trainees to cultivate their unique ideas and to express their perspectives openly. Such perspectives often help shape advancements in science.


Drs. Jennifer Crosbie & Jala Rizeq

Mentor: Dr. Jennifer Crosbie, Clinician Scientist and Associate Scientist, Neurosciences and Mental Health Program, SickKids
Focus: Understanding neurodevelopmental disorders, development of novel technology-based interventions for mental health

Mentee: Dr. Jala Rizeq, Clinical Research Fellow, Neurosciences and Mental Health Program, SickKids
Focus: Children and youth mental health

How has female mentorship shaped your science career?

Dr. Jennifer Crosbie: The women in science I know are brilliant, passionate and dedicated to their research and the children and families benefiting from this work. They are a source of inspiration everyday. Working with successful women in science has served as a key motivation when I was faced with barriers or challenges.

Dr. Jala Rizeq: I have been fortunate to work with inspiring and dedicated female mentors who have been extremely supportive of my professional pursuits. My career in science is a testament to my mentors’ efforts. 

Why is mentorship particularly important for women and girls pursuing a career in science?

Dr. Jennifer Crosbie: Working directly with successful women in science is a constant reminder that a career in science is attainable and sustainable. Pursuing a career in research and science is challenging and knowing that others have succeeded is important.

Dr. Jala Rizeq: Mentorship is critical to assist young scientist women to persist and pursue their goals despite the many challenges they may encounter within and outside the system. 

How can mentorship help improve diversity for women in science?

Dr. Jennifer Crosbie: Diverse representation is vital to motivate and support the next generation of clinician-scientists. Identifying oneself in successful women is important to inspire and motivate. 

Dr. Jala Rizeq: We can improve diversity by removing barriers or mitigating their impact. As such, mentorship is vital to improving diversity for women in science because it offers the support and guidance needed to navigate the barriers that women may face.


Dr. Jayne Danska & Laney Gail Beaulieu

Mentor: Dr. Jayne Danska, The Anne and Max Tanenbaum Chair in Molecular Medicine; Senior Scientist, Genetics and Genome Biology Program, SickKids; Associate Chief, Faculty Development and Diversity, SickKids
Focus: Mechanisms and targeted therapies in autoimmunity and leukemia

Mentee: Laney Gail Beaulieu, Biology and Medical Sciences Student, Western University
Focus: Genetics, immunology, Indigenous health and well being

How has female mentorship shaped your science career?

Dr. Jayne Danska: As a graduate student, I had an inspiring female research supervisor and mentor, who was a pioneer in genetics and introduced me to giants of the field. These women did brilliant, brave work while confronting overt professional boundaries because of their sex. Their experiences teach us that every generation must call out systemic bias and advocate for equity.

Laney Gail Beaulieu: Female mentorship has made me a lot more confident as a scientist, especially in voicing my opinions to colleagues or applying for opportunities that seemed out of reach before.

Why is mentorship particularly important for women and girls pursuing a career in science?

Dr. Jayne Danska: Strong female mentors teach through their choices and resilience under pressure. We are called to show up, work with passion and humility and confront challenges that inevitably come our way. As Michelle Obama said, “courage can be contagious” and inspires young women and girls to take risks and compose rich, impactful lives in science. Aspiring young women need to see themselves represented across the professional spectrum, including around leadership tables where key decisions are made.

Laney Gail Beaulieu: Science is a field that has been dominated by men in the past. Being mentored by a female scientist in a high-powered position allows you to visualize yourself in that role since powerful female scientists are not usually featured in mainstream media.

How can mentorship help improve diversity for women in science?

Dr. Jayne Danska: White women like me have benefitted from the courageous work of our foremothers that have allowed us to earn educational and professional advancement into senior roles. However, systemic biases against racialized women continues to block their professional opportunities including in the sciences. White women need to advocate for inclusion of racialized women, to insist on development of institutional culture where these women are respected, valued and invited to reshape practices that have reinforced different outcomes for racial groups. 

Laney Gail Beaulieu: Mentorship can improve diversity for women in science by providing additional support and guidance to populations who face systemic barriers to succeeding academically, such as Indigenous women like myself who struggled to receive a high school education in my home community.

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