Shining a light

Dr. Molly Shoichet (middle) at the University of Toronto, 2016. Photo courtesy of the author.

Photo: Dr. Molly Shoichet (middle) at the University of Toronto, 2016. Photo courtesy of the author.


Molly Shoichet

Women's heritage

Published Date: Mar 20, 2018

When I was young, my mother strongly encouraged me to pursue a career. She knew that for her generation, even after graduating from university, there were few options for women, and they were mostly based on how fast you could type. Along with my father, she taught my brothers and me to explore, create and innovate, to pursue our dreams and to learn from our experiences.

Canadian mothers and grandmothers blazed the trail for their daughters by breaking into traditionally male-dominated fields like engineering, law and business. They proved that Canadian women could – with education – pave their own paths and pursue their own dreams.

While employment barriers still exist, the opportunities for women in Canada have never been greater. It has been breathtaking to witness the #MeToo movement rapidly gain momentum as courageous women from Canada and around the world speak up against sexual harassment and wage inequality in the workplace.

Women who pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) have the opportunity to invent the future – and this is particularly exciting. We now see record levels of women studying STEM at Canadian universities, but these important fields remain overwhelmingly the bastion of men.

As Ontario’s first Chief Scientist, I am inspired to take my training in research, and its translation and communication, to a broader audience – to help shape policies that are grounded in evidence, to participate in redefining Ontario’s strategic investment in research, to restore trust in science and to enhance our province’s reputation as a destination for innovation. It is compelling to know that a scientist is welcome in government.

I am excited to take on this new role in addition to those I’ve forged so far: scientist, engineer, researcher, entrepreneur, mentor and mother. I will work collaboratively with colleagues in academia, industry and government to enhance evidence-based decision-making in government.

During my time at the University of Toronto, I have been privileged to work with and mentor brilliant and innovative scientists and engineers. I am part of a network of intellectually curious researchers who want to overcome the impacts of stroke, blindness, breast cancer and brain cancer to make a difference in our understanding of these diseases, while at the same time advancing some of our novel materials toward commercialization.

I know that among these brilliant minds, eyes may glaze at the thought of government policy-making. But I also know that we all agree on the importance and urgency of governments being guided by science and evidence as we face some of the greatest challenges of our time – including climate change, an aging population and the impact of transformative technologies.

My success so far has been very much a reflection of those around me – my colleagues, students, collaborators, administrative staff, technicians and, most importantly, my family. Together, we have had the opportunity to explore, create and innovate, to ask big questions and to propose big answers.

In order to solve big problems, we must take advantage of our collective expertise. As a young girl, I grew up in an age of girl power. As a mother of two boys, I realize the importance of encouraging our sons and daughters to pursue careers in science. With a diversity of experience, we will bring new ideas, propose new solutions and provide innovative ways of thinking.

I recognize that not every woman wants, or needs, to have it all – marriage, family, career, volunteer work, etc. But I do recognize the importance of options, and that this is only possible when both men and women value women in careers. We are lucky to live in a prosperous, diverse province that values higher education, where many of us have the freedom to choose – to choose our profession, our religion and how to live. We have a collective responsibility to raise children who recognize that racial and ethnic diversity, as well as diversity of thought and experience, is not a barrier but a benefit.

Ontario has “given me a place to stand and a place to grow.” It has allowed me to learn, to question, to grow and to flourish, unlike anywhere else in the world. As Ontario’s Chief Scientist, I will work to shine a light on Ontario researchers – men and women from all walks of life who are at the cutting-edge of advanced knowledge, and leading the way in the innovation economy.