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National conversation

Virtual panel on International Day of Women and Girls in Science


By Jeff Green

An award-winning researcher from the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science is participating in a national discussion as part of this year’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

Dr. Baiyu (Helen) Zhang
Dr. Baiyu (Helen) Zhang
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Dr. Baiyu (Helen) Zhang, Canada Research Chair in Coastal Environmental Engineering and professor, Department of Civil Engineering, will share her research experiences during a virtual presentation organized by the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

The session takes place on Thursday, Feb. 11, from 1:30-2:30 p.m. Members of the university community are invited to participate. To register, please see here.

Joining Dr. Zhang will be Dr. Irina Rish, Canadian Excellence Research Chair in Autonomous AI at the Université de Montréal.

Leading the discussion will be Dr. Claire Samson, vice-president, programs and planning, CFI and Dr. Dominique Bérubé, vice-president, research, SSHRC.

The conversation will focus on breaking down barriers to support future generations of women and girls in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM); the importance of funding for research programs; and working in Canada. The event will also include questions from viewers.

‘Comfort zone’

Dr. Zhang says she didn’t set out for a life in higher education.

After graduation, she worked as an environmental engineer in China and didn’t set her sights on a PhD until she received a surprise call from her future supervisor.

“There is hope for a better day, a better system and a better us.” — Dr. Baiyu (Helen) Zhang

“He told me his collaborator in China recommended me and [that] my record was impressive,” she said. “He encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone by pursuing a PhD degree and granted me a full scholarship.”

Dr. Zhang quit her job and came to Canada, where she eventually secured an Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council post-doctoral fellowship.

“This recognition inspired me and became one of my driving forces to seek a faculty position,” said Dr. Zhang, who joined Memorial in 2010.

‘Imposter syndrome’

In spite of being inspired by colleagues and mentors, Dr. Zhang says she faced challenges early on in her academic career.

“I realized this is the typical impostor syndrome,” she said. “It is so common in girls and women. We need to make efforts on International Day for Women and Girls in Science Day and every day. Though there is a long way to go, there is hope for a better day, a better system and a better us.”

Leading-edge research

One of Memorial’s most dynamic researchers, Dr. Zhang’s wide range of expertise includes offshore environmental monitoring and analysis; transport and fate of emerging contaminants; and oil pollution control.

Dr. Zhang is founder of Memorial’s Coastal Environment Laboratory, which is among a select group of worldwide facilities developing novel and environmentally friendly bio-products for marine oil spill response.

She is also a key researcher with Memorial’s Northern Region Persistent Organic Pollution Control Laboratory.

In December, Dr. Zhang received the President’s Award for Outstanding Research.

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