On International Women’s Day, I’m honoured to have been asked to send a message of hope out to young women: in 2021, a career in research is both a privilege and a possibility, as illustrated by my experience at Sainte-Justine, as well as that of other female scientists. Nowadays, the prospect of breaking into this traditionally male-dominated field is not nearly as daunting as it used to be. All you have to do is believe in yourself, and be sure to take advantage of the opportunities available to you along the way.
I’m a neuropsychologist by profession. After graduating from high school, my natural inclination was to pursue my studies in science. But it wasn’t until the end of my academic journey, during my postdoctoral fellowship, that research opened up as a real career option for me.
Mind you, it’s the kind of field you only really get to know once you’re already immersed in it. From the outside looking in, it can seem rather obscure and hard to wrap your head around. It also comes with its fair share of stereotypes: researchers are often portrayed as people who live only for their work, who are consumed by the need to excel so they can beat out rival scientists for funding.
My take on it is a lot more positive than that. It took shape while I was completing my studies and early in my career. I initially saw myself taking on a clinical position, but I was given the opportunity to do a postdoctoral fellowship in Melbourne, Australia. That’s when my passion for research really emerged.
A little more than a decade later, I feel very fortunate to be working in this field. I’m carving out my own career path based on my values, not anyone else’s preconceived notions.
I also have three young children, and it’s a huge advantage to have a flexible schedule that lets me be present for them, often at times during the day when other parents don’t have the luxury of being able to leave the office.
In 2021, many of the barriers that once prevented women form pursuing a career in research no longer exist. Not only are our numbers on the rise, but having women in the lab is now considered the norm, not the exception. We routinely are better aknowledged and are promoted to more senior positions. And girls who show a passion for science in elementary and high school now have access to programs to help them explore their budding interest in research.
All this is possible because of the trailblazers who came before us. My own career path was shaped by a number of inspiring women.
I’m thinking of Vicki Anderson, for example, who was my postdoctoral fellowship supervisor. She’s a world-renowned researcher specializing in child neuropsychology and a respected leader within her institution. She is also a mother. She broke into the field at a time when it was a lot harder for women than it is today.
There’s also Brenda Milner, a neuropsychologist at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital. She’s a pioneer in the field and someone who has fundamentally changed our understanding of the human brain. She’s now 102 years old and has actively contributed to the scientific community her entire life.
A little closer to home, there’s my own 23-person team at the lab, most of whom are young women. It’s great to have mentors, but there’s lots of motivation to be gained from younger colleagues as well. I’m so proud to watch as they forge ahead on their own journey.
To all the girls and women who want to follow us on this path, I have one message for you: believe in yourself.
I am sure there are as many different career paths in research as there are researchers! There’s no one-size-fits-all model. You can create the career, the lab and the team you want and do it in a way that suits you. So let your passion be your guide, be ready to make the most of the opportunities you encounter along the way… and don’t let anything stand in you way!
Miriam Beauchamp, PhD
*Dr. Beauchamp is a neuropsychologist and researcher. In her work, she strives to gain a better understanding of child cognitive and social development and to shed light on the effects of brain insult caused by concussions and traumatic brain injury.
The remarks expressed in this article reflect the opinion solely of the author and should not be considered as representative of the CHU Sainte-Justine Foundation.
Thank you for empowering their ideas!
Thank you to all our donors whose invaluable support helps female researchers like Miriam Beauchamp get ahead. By empowering their ideas, you are making it possible for them to turn their aspirations into achievements.
Sainte-Justine’s commitment to continuously advancing pediatric medicine has been fuelled by a long and proud line of strong, forward-looking women, starting with founders Irma LeVasseur and Justine Lacoste-Beaubien and stretching far into the future.
Here are just some of the inspiring women whose research careers at Sainte-Justine you are helping to support
- Sylvie Girard, PhD, Deputy Head of the Fetomaternal and Neonatal Pathologies axis at the CHU Sainte-Justine Research Centre. She and her team are looking into ways of identifying babies at risk of developing neurodevelopmental disorders and investigating how maternal pathologies affect the placenta, baby and mother.
- Laurence Ducharme-Crevier, MD, is a pediatric critical care physician. Her research is focused on the role sleep plays on intensive care and recovery. She is also leading a project on variations in heart rate and the prevention of secondary injury.
- Patricia Conrod, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and researcher whose expertise lies in adolescent brain development and the prevention and treatment of substance abuse. Her research focuses include biological, personality and cognitive risk factors for developing and maintaining addiction.
© Marc-Antoine Charlebois (header picture)