By Jessica Lovell
Health sciences are fun, interesting, can lead to any number of fascinating careers, and the field is full of successful women. These are some of the things Meghan Yip wants to show girls with the Ms Infinity Ontario Health Science Conference on Saturday.
Yip, who just finished her degree in human kinetics at the University of Guelph, has a passion for health sciences. Months ago, she started organizing the free conference for high school girls as a way of sharing that passion.
It’s about “just showing them how many endless opportunities there are for females,” she said.
Yes, the conference is a no-boys-allowed event. “This is all for girls,” said Yip. It’s not because she shared her classrooms at U of G with a disproportionately high number of males. That was not necessarily the case, she said.
Rather, it’s because she learned of the Ms Infinity program and believed in its merits.
Ms Infinity is a Society for Canadian Women In Science and Technology (SCWIST) program. The organization works to encourage women to go into science, engineering and technology, and to stay in those fields. Ms Infinity is aimed at getting high school girls to think about science as part of their future. But so far, there hasn’t been a conference held in Ontario, said Yip.
“I thought it was an amazing program and I thought it needs to come to Ontario, and what better place than Guelph,” she said.
In some ways, the conference will showing off the opportunities available in health science education at the U of G, but it is also intended to be broader than that.
“It is showcasing Guelph, but it’s more so about all the opportunities that lie within the health sciences,” said Yip.
The day-long event will cover four areas within health sciences – nutrition, human anatomy, biomechanics and engineering.
Students will get to participate in hands-on activities and workshops, some of which – like the human cadaver lab – they likely have never had the chance to experience before, said Yip.
“For me, it’s something I wish I’d had in high school,” she said.
Many of the things that will be showcased are things that Yip feels she learned about late in her education. She hopes this conference will give girls exposure to those things earlier.
“If you don’t think you’ll go into science, we still encourage you to come out,” she said, adding the conference will “expose them to careers they might not even know exist.”
The conference will bring together undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and professionals, and girls will be encouraged to ask questions throughout the event.
“No question is silly,” said Yip.
Keynote speakers will be Leah Bent, a U of G human health and nutritional sciences professor known for her research with astronauts, and Dr. Anne McCarthy, an Ottawa physician who specializes in the area of tropical medicine and international health.
But there will be plenty of other inspiring women taking part in the conference throughout the day, including U of G professor Lori Ann Vallis, audiologist Brenda Berge, University of Toronto biomedical communications masters student Megan Kirkland, and engineer Julia Graham with Rowan Williams Davies and Irwin (RWDI).
“These women are really inspiring, and that’s what we want them to portray to the girls,” said Yip.
It wasn’t hard to get them and a host of other volunteers involved in the conference, she said. “They’re all very supportive of these kinds of initiatives.”
Yip didn’t encounter a notable lack of girls in her Guelph classes, but she believes programs like Infinity are important to make sure there continue to be females represented.
“There are female students in science, but if there weren’t programs like this, there wouldn’t be as many,” she said.
For around 60 girls who are expected to participate in Saturday’s conference, Yip’s advice is to come with lots of questions, an open mind and a readiness to enjoy the day.
“You don’t need to know right away (what you want to study); there’s time to figure it out. Just keep an open mind and follow your interests,” she said.