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Dr. Helen Zhang

Engineering researcher followed her heart — and role models’ advice along the way

By Jackey Locke

Dr. Helen Zhang learned from an early age to follow her heart and the rest would work itself out.

“I was hesitant to become a female researcher,” said the Canada Research Chair in Environmental Engineering and associate professor in the Department of Civil Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science.

“However, I chose to follow my heart and it was one of the best decisions I ever made.”

Dr. Zhang believes that females perceive there to be many more internal barriers to career options in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields than males do.

She has a message for young, female students considering an education and/or career in science: “Believe in yourself and build your self-confidence.”

Growing up and throughout her career, Dr. Zhang says she has received inspiration from many people.

Dr. Helen Zhang wants young women to know that they can be scientists, too.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

“My grandmother taught me at an early age that the meanings of life are to explore the unknown and to contribute to society,” she said. “She also helped me to build my courage and to face challenges in life.”

Her grandmother’s advice gave her the initial boost she needed. Then, while completing her PhD in environmental systems engineering at the University of Regina, her supervisor’s encouragement and the inspiration she received from peers helped convince her that she could be anything her heart desired.

“My PhD supervisor showed me the beauty of science and how to develop strong beliefs and career skills,” she said. “Strong role models also made a huge difference in my life and helped me to decide the best career path for me.”

As a highly respected professor and researcher, Dr. Zhang remembers how important it is to be the best role model for her students, and says she tries to create a warm and encouraging environment for all of her students.

“On International Day for Women and Girls in Science Day and every day, I encourage all of my female students, my female peers in science communities and girls who love STEM to stimulate yourself,” she said. “In the world of science, I have achieved happiness, self-satisfaction and inner peace, and for that I am truly grateful.”


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