NSERC Chair for
Women in Science & Engineering

Cynthia Paszkowski

Dr. Cynthia Paszkowski

You will have to be flexible and seek out opportunities.

Professor, Biological Sciences
University of Alberta

Undergraduate education - Albion College, Michigan (Liberal Arts). Graduate training - University of Wisconsin-Madison (Zoology). Post-doctoral work - Oregon State University (Oceanography). I arrived at University of Alberta in 1984 and initially worked as a sessional instructor before securing a tenure-track position. My research focuses on the ecology of freshwater fishes, amphibians, and birds. I am active in conservation in Alberta and nationally.

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

I am most enthused about educating students. I enjoyed the many years that I spent overseeing our department's undergraduate programs. I also find mentoring graduate students rewarding.

What are you researching and what excites you about it?

Currently, I am primarily concerned with amphibian conservation. There is much to learn about the biology of these animals in Canada that includes the products of new technologies (eDNA, automated acoustic recorders that can be applied to protect amphibian populations.

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

Students from my lab have gone into academic positions or work for environmental consulting firms, NGOs, or government agencies.

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

There are more men then women in our department. My main goal is to treat everyone fairly regardless of their personal attributes. I have never been "concerned" about working with men. Perhaps this is related to over 30 years of collaborative research with my husband, Dr. William Tonn, who is a freshwater ecologist.

How do you foster and encourage diversity in your workplace?

I am willing to work with people from any background as long as they show a real interest in biology. I have mentored many female students and students from a variety of cultural backgrounds, but I have never sought out such students. I just encourage those who come to me and want to learn and collaborate.

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

I think in general students need to be better informed about different options for careers, including non-academic options. Candid one-on-one discussions with female scientists and engineers would help, I suspect.

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

I would tell them that success will require that they will have to really pursue such a career as personal motivation and "ambition" are primary drivers. They will have to work hard. They will have to be flexible and seek out opportunities.

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

My role models were male and female professors that I met as an undergraduate student. Later, other graduate students served as role models.