Physics professor Dan Xiao is experimenting with an electromagnet to develop a portable Magnetic Resonance device.Physics professor Dan Xiao is experimenting with an electromagnet to develop a portable Magnetic Resonance device.

UWindsor initiative promotes women in science

With International Women’s Day celebrated across the globe on March 8, the Faculty of Science reflects upon the scientific advancements made by women and its own Women in Science (WinS) project. WinS originated this past year, in part by a group of female science students who were inspired after attending a Women in Science and Engineering conference in Toronto.

Third-year physics major Layale Bazzi returned from the conference motivated to explore gender ratios in UWindsor science programs, with the goal of using the information to create resources that promote and support women at all stages of their scientific careers.

With funding from a Promoters of Experiential and Active Research-based Learning (PEARL) grant, Bazzi, along with science undergraduates Yucca Albano and Kiruthika Baskaran, discovered that, although women are still underrepresented in some science programs, the gender gap across the Faculty of Science has been declining over the last decade.

In Bazzi’s home department of physics, which historically has been male dominated, the percentage of undergraduate female students has increased from a range of 22-28 to 33-34 over the last decade. Greater increases are observed at the graduate level. The most successful recruiter of female students remains the Medical Physics program, which in recent years boasts similar numbers of female and male students.

According to Statistics Canada’s 2017 Women in Canada: A Gender-based Statistical Report, UWindsor’s trend aligns with national statistics on females in STEM, which shows that 39 per cent of 25 to 34 year-year-old STEM degree holders are women, compared to just 23 per cent of 55 to 64 year-old STEM degree holders.

An increase in women representation provides more diversity to the field, which translates into new and different scientific ideas and better economic outcomes. Diversity also challenges old stereotypes, breaks down barriers and creates more support for women as they advance in their careers.

Physics professor Dan Xiao joined the faculty in July 2017 with research expertise in designing a portable Magnetic Resonance device that could provide more inexpensive and accessible diagnostic options. She says it is also beneficial for young women to have role models in the field.

“Sometimes the challenge in attracting women to physics is that they are too cautious and may not feel they are not good enough,” she says. “I have spoken to brilliant female students, from various levels, who do not feel confident.”

Bazzi says outreach and awareness helps to empower and recruit the next generation of female physicists. In the fall 2017 semester, she visited a local high school physics club and spoke with students about physics. She also was a panelist at the Build a Dream conference.

She suggests that to move forward, we must also acknowledge the past and celebrate the advancements women have made to science.

“Before the 20th century, it was rare for a woman to participate in scientific discussion, let alone win prizes for their discoveries, but now women have sailed the seas and the stars and have helped humanity advance in their quest to decipher nature,” says Bazzi. “It is time to tap into that reservoir of talent.

“In 1903, Marie Curie was the first woman to ever win a Nobel Prize. That prize was for physics, but she also went on to be the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two different fields of sciences.”

Taylor Tracey Kyryliuk is a fourth-year physics major and the Physics Club president. She says she chose to study physics because she wanted to be challenged in life.

“The fact that I am female has rarely, if ever, been a consideration when making decisions, especially academic ones. I am just glad that I am living in an era where I have the freedom to choose to study and to choose what I want to study,” Kyryliuk says.

Bazzi, Albano, and Baskaran will present their findings on status of women in science at UWindsor on March 22 at UWill Discover 2018, the campus undergraduate conference where students present their original work in their field of study.

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