Defence scientists empower girls to pursue dreams in STEM through outreach

February 9, 2021 – Defence Stories

The UNESCO data is clear: women continue to choose STEM careers less often, graduate from STEM programs at lower rates, publish less frequently throughout their careers and represent only about 30 per cent of researchers worldwide. That’s why on the International Day of Women and Girls in Science on February 11, women scientists at Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) are encouraging girls to pursue their dreams and find rewarding careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Defence Scientist Dr. Cathy Boscarino, whose research mainly involves genomics and machine learning with DRDC, is speaking at Earl Haig Secondary School in Toronto again after a meaningful outreach last year.

“The feedback alone was an indication that the girls want to hear more about life as a woman entering a STEM career; they already know the academic route required. There needs to be more than just a one-off presentation for the girls,” Dr. Boscarino says.

That authenticity resonated with the high school girls, who told Dr. Boscarino they still felt family and societal pressure to get married and have children by a certain age were obstacles for women pursuing a career in STEM.

For Dr. Boscarino, her next step is working with a science teacher from Earl Haig to give the girls ongoing support and an opportunity to ask questions.

Dr. Ritu Gill, a Defence Scientist with DRDC researching disinformation, is also participating in outreach to high school students for the International Day of Women and Girls in Science this year. She believes young girls need to see the diversity of women in STEM; and as a woman of colour in STEM, Dr. Gill represents that diversity.

“Girls need to be able to see scientists that look and sound like them, to see themselves represented. Through outreach, girls can concretely see the diverse representation and connect with women in STEM from diverse backgrounds,” Dr. Gill says.

Defence scientist Dr. Mary Maclean agrees mentoring is one way to address the imbalances in the STEM field.

“I have benefitted a great deal from mentors, men and women, who believed in my potential as a scientist,” says Dr. Maclean, who is currently working with a women-dominated group of researchers at DRDC, studying how people make decisions in uncertain situations.

For next steps, Dr. Maclean would like to encourage women to pursue management roles in STEM and to place more value on the sciences that women are drawn to in larger numbers.

“Social sciences are sometimes considered softer sciences, but they are not any less rigorous,” says Maclean, who will be speaking to Girl Guides for this outreach.

Through this type of outreach and ongoing mentoring, DRDC’s passionate women defence scientists are paving the way to achieving gender equality in STEM.

Defence scientists

Defence Scientists Dr. Cathy Boscarino, Dr. Ritu Gill and Dr. Mary Maclean are participating in outreach for the International Day of Women and Girls in Science on February 11.

Long description

An image of a different woman each fills one-third of the photograph. On the left, a smiling woman wearing a white lab coat stands in a laboratory. In the middle, a woman wearing a dark suit speaks, while holding a microphone in one hand and a remote control in the other hand. On the right, a woman wearing glasses and a navy blue sweater looks directly into the camera.

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