Conference highlights diversity in STEM

“Math and coding were something I really avoided – I had a fear of it.”

Psychology PhD student Kaitlyn Parks knows she isn’t alone. But as Co-Chair of the Inspiring Diversity in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) conference, she is erasing that fear in others and getting women and girls engaged in these fields.

As part of that effort, Inspiring Diversity in STEM will host its third biennial conference on March 21-22. The event is supported by BrainsCAN.

“The conference is an opportunity for (people of all backgrounds) to showcase their work,” Parks said. “It also connects inspiring keynote speakers to undergraduate and graduate students who might not have as much exposure to women who are in different STEM fields.”

Globally, only 30 per cent of female students select STEM-related fields in higher education – fields like information technology, engineering and computer science. When it comes to academia, fewer than 30 per cent of researchers worldwide are women.

In Canada, the numbers aren’t much better. According to the Centre for Education Statistics at Statistics Canada, women accounted for 43.6 per cent of those enrolled in first-year STEM programs, with the majority enrolled in biological sciences. Only 19 per cent of those women chose engineering, while 27.6 per cent enrolled in mathematics and computer sciences.

For those who establish a career in research, women are also underrepresented in research recognition, comprising only 10.2 per cent of the senior Tier 1 Canada Research Chair positions at universities.

“Inequities, many of which may seem not too bad individually, accumulate over time. This leads to a lack of diversity in STEM, especially at professorial or senior leadership levels,” said Lisa Saksida, BrainsCAN Co-Scientific Director and Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry neuroscientist.

Open to undergraduates, graduates, faculty and industry representatives, the conference features an undergraduate poster competition, graduate student expo, and industry expo. New this year, the conference will feature skill-developing breakout sessions, including workshops on abstract writing, coding and open science.

Keynote speakers include:

  • Yara Hosein, Director of Operations at the Additive Design in Surgical Solutions Centre, and a researcher with the School of Biomedical Engineering;
  • Matt Davison, Professor in the School of Mathematical & Statistical Sciences at Western, where he has served as Dean of Science since July 2018;
  • Shantal Feltham, Founder, President and CEO of Stiris Research and Stiris Research USA Inc., an award-winning company conducting global clinical trials for biotechnology and biopharmaceutical industries;
  • Parshati Patel, Educational Outreach and Communications Specialist at Western’s Institute for Earth and Space Exploration and an adjunct research professor in Faculty of Education; and
  • Jessica Perritt, Manager of Indigenous knowledge and reconciliation at the Nuclear Waste Management Organization.

Inspiring Diversity in STEM was founded in 2015 by a group of graduate students at Western.

Visit the conference website for details.