NSERC Chair for
Women in Science & Engineering

Dr. Cathy Ryan

Follow your passion. Don't worry about proving anything.

Professor, Geoscience
University of Calgary

Cathy Ryan has been a Professor in Geoscience at the University of Calgary since 1997, conducting field-based research in environmental geoscience and hydrogeology on community relevant issues.

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

Working with capable, young, optimistic people on interesting problems, often out-of-doors at interesting field sites!

What are you researching and what excites you about it?

Free phase gas (i.e. bubble) transport in the subsurface, for example at oil and gas wells that have fugitive methane migration and at geysers. We know so little, and there is so much to learn!

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

Environmental consulting; scientists working federal, provincial, municipal governments, and not-for-profit agencies, teachers, journalists, and more!

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

I ascribe to Nellie McClung's quotable quote: "Never explain, never retract, never apologize. Just get the thing done and let them howl." Although, in my case, I don't think anybody is howling.

How do you foster and encourage diversity in your workplace?

The rainbow on my office door is one way. Treating everyone with respect and speaking up and shutting down any hint of inappropriateness is another. I also think overtly about my own implicit bias on an ongoing basis to try and keep it in check.

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

Institutions can make us aware of how insidious and common implicit bias is. There is very good science backing up evidence for systematic bias, and we all need to be made aware of it.

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

Follow your passion. Don't worry about proving anything. Passion, and the hard work that comes with passion, will get you where you should be. It’s okay not to be the best, because work-life balance will see you through the tough times.

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

Rachel Carson has been a huge role model. At some point early in my career I read everything I could find about her. If you read her milestone contribution, ‘Silent Spring’ now, the science is still right on. In addition to being an elegant scientist, she was an excellent science writer. I think good writing is immensely helpful in a science career.