NSERC Chair for
Women in Science & Engineering

Dr. Catherine Field

Over the years I have seen this change and more women are entering science.

Professor, Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science
University of Alberta

Catherine Field obtained her PhD in Nutrition and Metabolism the University of Alberta followed by a post-doctoral fellowship at McGill University. She began her academic career at the U of Alberta in 1991. Her research program centers on the effect of nutrition on the development of the immune system and the role of specific fatty acids in the treatment of breast cancer. She has published more than 200 peer reviewed publications. Dr. Field has trained 7 PhD, 18 MSc and 6 postdoctoral fellows and has provided a research experience to more than 40 undergraduate, college and high school students. She was awarded the McCalla and Killiam Professorships from the University of Alberta, and the Earl Willard McHenry Award for Leadership in Nutrition from the Canadian Nutrition Society.

As an academic, what is your favourite part of your job?

Watching students at all levels become researchers.

What are you researching and what excites you about it?

My NSERC research program focuses on how diet, specifically long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, help the immune system develop tolerance. We study this in the postnatal period and use a number of animal models that involve feeding mom during lactation or directly supplementing the pup. Understanding the natural process or how oral tolerance develops and how the early diet can promote it will help us develop interventions to promote tolerance and prevent food allergies.

What types of professions can students graduating in your field enter?

Many of my PhD students have gone on to academic careers in science. Other students go on to work in research for the neutraceutical industry. Some have picked careers as research assistants/technicians and those students that enter who are dieticians go back to dietetics and incorporate research into their practices.

Is your workplace male-dominated? If so, how do you negotiate being a woman in a male-dominated workplace and/or field?

I am fortunate that in the nutrition field we are about 50:50 males to females. It has never been a major issue. Saying that, I have never had a Chair or a Dean that is a female as I am in an Agriculture Faculty which is a little more male dominate. The male faculty in my department treat women as equals.

How do you foster and encourage diversity in your workplace?

I have taken on the supervision of many international students and we maintain a balance of male and female students in our lab group.

What kinds of systemic support could institutions provide to help encourage girls and women to pursue careers in science and engineering?

Over the years I have seen this change and more women are entering science. The summer student programs in Alberta, WISEST and HYRS fund students coming into our labs in the summer. Many of the students I have had in this program come back in subsequent years and some have gone on to graduate studies.

What advice would you give to girls or young women who are interested in careers in science or engineering?

Take part in any of the introduction to research programs that your high school offers. If you are an undergrad, apply for an NSERC summer studentship to work with a researcher and try out science. You will meet graduate students and they can answer questions about why they picked post-graduate studies and where they are going.

As a professional in science or engineering, who are your role models and mentors?

My PhD supervisor was one of the most significant mentors in my career. However I think my first exposure to research as an NSERC summer student made my decision to continue my studies.