NSERC Chair for
Women in Science & Engineering

Constance Finney

Dr. Constance Finney

Keep at it. Make sure to take help/advice when it is offered.

Assistant Professor, Integrative Cell Biology
University of Calgary


Dr. Constance Finney is an infectious disease immunologist who has always focused on host parasite interactions.

Dr. Finney obtained her BSc (Hons) in Biology from Imperial College London, with a year spent working for GlaxoSmithKline in the clinical virology department. She then earned a PhD in immunoparasitology at the University of Edinburgh, focusing on immune responses to intestinal worms. Her post-doctoral training in malaria and HIV, was undertaken at the Universities of Toronto and Calgary, with time spent in Kisumu (Kenya). Dr. Finney joined the University of Calgary’s Biological Sciences Department in 2012 where she is studying the impact of multiple low dose chronic infections (e.g. gastro-intestinal worms) as well as the impact of co-infections on immune responses.

Her overall research goal is to discover how the host immune system interacts with pathogens in these settings to improve/develop effective treatments/vaccines. She aims to determine: Aim 1: How underlying chronic infections change immune responses to new infections. Aim 2: How diagnosis/prevention/treatment of diseases is/are affected by these changes. Aim 3: How to improve diagnosis/prevention/treatment of diseases in ‘real-world’ contexts.

She is currently directly involved in three projects to determine: Project 1: How underlying chronic intestinal worm infections affect immune responses to incoming parasites. Project 2: How chronic HIV infection impacts cancer-causing human papilloma virus infections. Project 3: How multiple low dose gastro-intestinal worm infections differ from single high dose laboratory models.

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

I really enjoy learning new things and the fact that every day is different.

What are you researching and what excites you about it?

I research the impact of chronic parasites on the immune system. How does our immune system cope under different pressures, for example multiple infections with the same parasite or multiple parasites at the same time? I find it fascinating to try to understand how both the host and the parasite coexist.

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

Here are a few: Academia, Pharmaceutical Industry, Science Communication, Trials Coordinator, Core Facility Manager and many more.

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

Yes, however, most of my male colleagues are cognizant of this and are very supportive. I also make sure I take help when it is offered rather than to try to work on my own and refuse support.

How do you foster and encourage diversity in your workplace?

I try to ensure gender balance, although usually my lab is female heavy :) I am not Canadian and appreciate the input that other cultures/backgrounds can bring to a team, so I try to have a mix of backgrounds in my lab.

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

Support for maternity leaves both for the mother and the lab: e.g. supervisor may be wary of taking on women in their 30s for fear of them leaving them for maternity leave. If there were some way of applying for some research funds for this individual when they returned, that might remove some of the pressure.

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

Keep at it, and make sure to take help/advice when it is offered. You will learn enormously from your mentors.

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

My husband, also a scientist, is my biggest advocate! There are a number of successful women in my field who balance their careers with their family life and I admire them strongly for this.