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Celebrating International Day of Women and Girls in Science

Q&A with Dr. Natalie Szudy, DHDP managing director

International Day of Women and Girls in Science was created to encourage more women and girls to pursue careers in STEM. What advice would you give women and girls interested in pursuing careers in science?

I believe connecting with supportive peers, mentors, friends, and family members who encourage your interest and passions is very important. Having a supportive network can help to provide valuable guidance and inspiration. It can also help to encourage you to continue during times where you need to be resilient and persevere through challenging obstacles.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Give yourself time and space to explore different areas of interest within science and technology.  Science is a broad field and there are many areas that may interest you. Explore those connections. There is not one single path that should be taken. Embrace exploring the less travelled paths. 

Do you remember the moment you knew you wanted to be a researcher/pursue a career in the sciences? 

I have always been interested in complex multifaceted challenges. Coupled with a curiosity to explore and understand complex systems, I have been drawn to push the boundaries of what is possible. During my education and throughout my career, I have had informative experiences which continually highlighted the creativity that also exists within science and technology development. For example, collaborating with patient partners on the development of a tool for health care that combined evidence-based approaches with technical solutions highlighted how innovative thinking is linked to curiosity. These experiences continue to be energizing and reaffirming.

What was the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a woman in this field? Do you think the landscape has changed?

Lack of representation. It was challenging to develop a support network that included women in STEM fields and to find mentorship and networking opportunities. Although this is improving and there has been an increase in mentorship and networking opportunities, there is still a long way to go.  Additionally, acknowledging the invaluable contributions of women in science technology across the spectrum of roles is important.  

Is there anything you’ve encountered as a woman in STEM that you hope will be different for your daughter’s generation?

Puzzle Analogy – I often describe my work to my daughter by using the example of finding the right puzzle piece. Sometimes you have a picture that you can follow that serves as a map and your job is to find the right order for each of the puzzle pieces to fit together. Sometimes you have only half of the picture, and you need to work with others who have information that can help you. Collaboration moves everyone forward by working towards the same goal. My hope is that my daughter’s generation is free to embrace their own unique perspectives and understands how valuable their contributions are to solving complex problems, driving innovation and positively impacting society.  

What do your kids think about the work you do?

We often play games as a family–most recently a circuit activity–so I had a chance to ask my son and daughter that question. They shared these responses:

“I think the work that my mom does is interesting, she is helping people, and I am proud of that. I think technology can help solve problems.”

“I think science is interesting because there are a lot of different ways you can learn about things by trying experiments.”

As the managing director of the DHDP, what is your vision for the future of the Network?

My main goal in this new role is to support the realization of the DHDP mission and - the availability of precision medicine and personalized care to Canadians through innovations in federated learning. This includes bridging technology development with policies that enable health innovation and AI capacity building.