Inaugural Emmy Noether National Forum spotlights women at the frontier of science
The first-ever Emmy Noether National Virtual Forum took place on May 2, 2023, with the theme of exploring the method and mindsets of women at the frontier of breakthrough science.
Participants from across Canada and beyond tuned in as the Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell set the stage with powerful remarks about the vital importance of women in science, and the many challenges still to overcome.
“We absolutely need the voices and visions of women to be heard,” she said. “It just doesn’t make sense not to empower half of the world’s population. Employing their big brains and their lived experiences and perspectives will undoubtedly deliver better outcomes for societies that are seeking resilience and sustainability. But I also know that if we’re going to unleash such enormous talent, there is much unfinished business. There are barriers of accessibility, even violence, that need to be broken down.”
If those barriers are to be erased, there is much to be done. Four speakers were invited to the panel to tackle the topic by examining four “C”s that might make all the difference: curiosity, creativity, collaboration, and courage.
Katie Mack, Hawking Chair in Cosmology and Science Communication at Perimeter Institute, spoke about her curiosity about the world and the universe, from the smallest to the largest scales. “We don’t know ahead of time what directions of research will lead to major breakthroughs,” she said. That’s why it is so important to follow your curiosity: an interesting lead might deliver big results down the road.
Estelle Inack, Perimeter research scientist and co-founder of quantum start-up yiyaniQ, performed a passionate dramatization of how creativity helped her become an academic entrepreneur. The message of her skit: “If you want to solve the world’s hardest problems and help humanity…you need to be bold and courageous.”
Zainab Azim, founder of the Global Initiative and Vision for Education (GIVE), emphasized collaboration, urging Canadian educators and policy-makers to foster belonging, purpose, and excitement in students. “We need pedagogies that connect content to context. We need purpose-based, community-based, collaborative opportunities for learning,” she said. “When students feel like they are a part of something greater than themselves…we see that that makes a big difference in their motivation, their sense of belonging, and their interest in pursuing STEM.”
Vanessa Vakharia, CEO of The Math Guru and author of Math Hacks, closed out the session speaking about courage: not that women need to find courage, but that they already have it within them. “At a very young age, girls are more often than not taught that math is something they are not put here on the planet to do. And what happens when they’re taught that? It is often their first limiting belief. It’s the first thing they think to themselves, ‘Oh, there’s something I’m just innately incapable of doing.’ What we actually need is more women to walk on this planet believing they are capable of absolutely anything they set their mind to,” she said.
The lessons from each of the four participants are valuable and actionable for everyone, not just career scientists: Be curious. Be bold. Be a mentor. And believe in your own capabilities.
Together, they can make all the difference in the world.
The Emmy Noether National Virtual Forum is part of Perimeter Institute’s Emmy Noether Initiatives, designed with the aim of effecting real change for under-represented groups within theoretical physics. The program is named after pioneering German mathematician Emmy Noether. Learn more here.
Perimeter Institute is the world’s largest research hub devoted to theoretical physics. The independent Institute was founded in 1999 to foster breakthroughs in the fundamental understanding of our universe, from the smallest particles to the entire cosmos. Research at Perimeter is motivated by the understanding that fundamental science advances human knowledge and catalyzes innovation, and that today’s theoretical physics is tomorrow’s technology. Located in the Region of Waterloo, the not-for-profit Institute is a unique public-private endeavour, including the Governments of Ontario and Canada, that enables cutting-edge research, trains the next generation of scientific pioneers, and shares the power of physics through award-winning educational outreach and public engagement.