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Leadership and Culture
February 11, 2021

A day in the life of a scientist: celebrating women in science

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Terramera's women in science

Today marks the UN’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science which celebrates the ground-breaking discoveries and achievements of women globally and addresses the limiting gender biases that discourage women from pursuing a career in science.

With women making up less than 30 per cent of researchers worldwide, we need significantly more #WomenInScience to harness our full potential to transform how food is grown and achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to ensure a sustainable future for everyone.

Leading up to the day, we shared advice for aspiring women in science and perspectives from Black women in science. To mark the day, we asked our incredible team to share their experiences and offer advice to inspire and empower the next generation of #WomenInScience. Here are their stories:

Meet Naghmeh, Senior Robotics Engineer

Naghmeh Garmsiri, Senior Robotics Engineer, working on a high-tech control panel she designed for our automated growth chambers in Vancouver.

I chose to be an engineer in my teens because I found tremendous joy and satisfaction in creating multi-component systems where every part of it works smart and in harmony with the other parts.

It was only when I got my first job, years later, that I realized I am part of a 10% share of women in engineering, even less than that when it comes to fieldwork. It is not always smooth having to ‘fight the invisible war’—the best term for describing the challenges I faced.

‘Sometimes I have to work harder to prove myself. Sometimes I have to represent my gender and push fiercely to convince and educate people around me, that women can do the jobs that men do.

In cases, I felt I was treated with unfairness. Often, I had to deal with doubts and hold my spirit up all alone. On the bright side, I have made noticeable progress on this path— I am now a pioneer in my field and have the chance to offer my experiences to other women who are earlier in their career. Here are three pieces of advice for aspiring female engineers:

 

1.     Connect with other women in the engineering community

2.     Find role models and mentors to learn from

3.     Pursue the career you are passionate about and inspire other women to do the same, despite the odds

My presence in the engineering field had a slight yet undeniable effect on how society thinks about women in science. I am fortunate to have this opportunity to make a change. I believe the invisible war is totally worth fighting.


Meet Hoda, Machine Learning Engineer

Hoda Aghaei, Machine Learning Engineer, writing and reviewing code at our office in Vancouver.

When I was growing up in Iran, people would ask: What do you want to be when you grow up? My answer was always the same: an engineer. My family and friends were supportive—they saw how much I enjoyed and thrived solving math problems from a young age. Still, many people thought engineering was not for women. 

In university I was one of 40 women among 250 students. This was discouraging at first, though we soon became friends who supported each other, and gender did not make a difference.

The only thing that matters is how passionate you are and what you bring to the table with your technical knowledge and problem-solving skills.

I am a machine learning engineer at Terramera where my voice is heard and my opinion matters. It should be an encouraging example for any woman who is considering a career in engineering or computer science. So, what it is like to be a machine learning engineer? Here is what my typical day looks:

Morning:

- Stand up meeting to plan out the day and address any obstacles

- Write and review code for a project

- Design and set up hardware

Lunch

- Take part in company-wide virtual trivia or virtual group fitness classes

Afternoon

- Brainstorming session with the engineering team

- Troubleshoot automated software pipelines and hardware systems

- Research and learn about state-of-the art Machine Learning practices


Meet Michelle, Research Technician

Michelle Macdonald, Research Technician conducting ground-breaking research at our High-throughput lab in Vancouver.

Science is more about what we do not know than what we do know. The cycle of mysteries and questions and answers is never ending. There is something beautiful and thrilling about it that gets me excited to go to work every day as a scientist, where I am performing ground-breaking research that will help transform food production.

Food means a lot in my family.

Food means coming together and taking care of each other; creating meals that are good for your body and health; making it with love; and, sharing it with those we care about the most.

I remember times when I was growing up where food was not readily available and realizing how lucky we were that those times were temporary and rare. I recognize the importance of our research in informing progress in agriculture to ensure everyone has access to safe and healthy food.

In my young career as a queer woman in science, I have learnt the value of speaking up and contributing to discussions, regardless of my hesitation and the dual biases I face. It feels strange approaching the ‘STEM table’ we were only invited to not that long ago. I have a few pieces of advice for aspiring women in science:

1. Speak up and be heard

Did you notice that something is ‘off’ with the design of a study? While it might be easier to be a fly on the wall, it is much more important to breakdown barriers and be heard.

2. Contribute to meaningful discussions

It’s time to join the ‘STEM table’! Throughout history, women—women who made significant discoveries—were excluded from meaningful science discussions. We must embrace the chance to be involved, even if it feels strange at first.

3. Push beyond your comfort zone

Challenges arise in the workplace. We must push beyond our comfort zones and past the invisible biases to contribute. I push myself over my ‘mental cliff’ to contribute because I acknowledge there were women before me who wished they could have.

 


Meet Maryam, Machine Learning Engineer

As a child, society implied that we have only two options: be a girl, or, be in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM). But, that is simply not true—we need more women and girls in STEM to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Our mothers and grandmothers fought for their rights to balance gender biases and now it is our responsibility to defy the odds and inspire more women in science.

So, if you are an aspiring woman in science, here is what you can expect to encounter in a day as a computer vision and machine learning engineer

1. Developing algorithms and programming

Coding is just like baking. COVID brought with it the “working from the home” situation, which gave me the chance to bake more than usual. I follow the steps one-by-one, taste the dough and make adjustments based on what I like or do not like. It’s similar to coding, where we make a goal, create the recipe (aka. the algorithm) and modify it based on our end goal.

2 . Teaching machines how to see images

Seeing with curiosity. I have three young nephews and I am so amazed by how uniquely they think, learn and look at the world—their curiosity sees so many details that I casually miss. As a machine learning engineer, I look at the images to see their unique features in detail so I can develop an algorithm to make the machine see what I see.

3. Learning, creativity, and adventure

Learning is an ongoing journey. I migrated from Iran four years ago where skiing is not common place. Since arriving in Canada, I have started to learn how to ski and realized there is always more to learn or a new hill I can explore. Like in machine learning engineering, there is always something new to learn or a new technique to use.


Discover our other posts that feature advice for aspiring women in science and perspectives from Black women in science.

Join the conversation with #WomenInScience

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