NSERC Chair for
Women in Science & Engineering

Judy Anderson

Dr. Judy Anderson

Go for it - follow your dreams! Work well, and keep your eyes open.

Professor, Biological Sciences
University of Manitoba

Dr. Judy Anderson holds a PhD in human anatomy, and BSc degrees in Zoology and Medicine. In 1988 she was recruited to the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Manitoba, doing research and teaching human anatomy (gross, microscopic and neuroanatomy), and muscle structure and function to students in medicine, medical rehabilitation and graduate studies. She became Associate Dean (Academic) and Acting Dean, before becoming Head of the Department of Biological Sciences in the Faculty of Science. Her research career spans 30 years of experiments on mouse models of muscular dystrophy and muscle injury and repair, with a major discovery that nitric oxide activates muscle stem/satellite cells to begin regeneration. She also led a research-education initiative on interprofessional education for collaborative practice, which contributed to implementation of interprofessional health-professional education programs at the University of Manitoba. Current studies are on age-related atrophy and comparative regulation of satellite cell activation. Dr. Anderson has authored more than 100 publications, holds 4 patents, and all her previous students entered science-related careers.

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

I love the moment when students become scientists who can really wrestle with ideas and solve problems, and when they know that is the case! Before that happens, research is a lot of work; after that point, research is fun, self-motivated, and rewarding because the discoveries are so fresh and can be shared with confidence. As academic researchers, we get the privilege of working with young people (continuously getting younger in relation to ourselves), and this keeps me thinking in new ways to address questions and hypotheses relevant and important to the next generations.

What are you researching and what excites you about it?

My research is focused on understanding the regulation of muscle stem cells called satellite cells and how that changes across species, with aging, and with disease. That fundamental knowledge has led to discoveries about nitric oxide-mediated activation of satellite cells (to begin regenerating muscle after injury, for example) that led to us developing a new molecule that improves muscle regeneration and promotes muscle growth. I'm excited that each student opens a particular niche of their interest in an expanding field, and that implications of the work relate to evolutionary biology, conservation, pathophysiology, and even medical applications.

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

Over the decades, I've had students enter research careers in academia and industry, clinical professions including medicine, dentistry, medical rehabilitation (including continuing research interests), conduct research to improve health-professional education, and enter patent law or technology-transfer professions.

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

My workplace is dominated by males conducting research in an academic setting. This has been an "interesting challenge" through the decades, with some advances and some disappointments. However, I have championed women (and everyone) "doing science", being strong advocates for science (for society and in education), and following passions. It has been critical to my own career that I've found like-minded women and men, who do research as part of their personal self-expression rather than because they have a job or are working toward someone else's goals. I find myself having to speak out, often on behalf of others, knowing that insisting on and championing the need for an inclusive workplace with a "climate" that encourages discovery and innovation by everyone is a valuable boost to the success of science and careers.

How do you foster and encourage diversity in your workplace?

I listen (to dreams and problems), I invite engagement by any and everyone, and I do not let prejudice or presumption take roles in a discussion. The lab and the department are international and the work toward everyone learning together is well worth the effort!

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

Too many to list in a survey! Systemic change takes a huge effort: at the LEAST there should be one NSERC-WISE scientist at each institution who can keep women in science at the forefront of peoples’ consciousness! Implement policy to balance CRC and CERC appointments (male/female) without delay... Hire women professors and promote them.

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

Go for it - follow your dreams! Work well, and keep your eyes open. Be yourself. Join groups and be part of larger initiatives, but don't be afraid of standing out. Volunteer to organize something, and you'll find that others want to be part of that, and you'll get to meet so many interesting people - some of them will lead you to new ideas and questions that will inspire you! Find mentors, as many as you need, and don't give up because something is hard; the hard stuff is the most worthwhile!

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

A woman scientist and a pathologist were 2 key mentors - unfortunately both are now deceased. My role models are those who stick their necks out to make changes that are important to benefit many, and who are honest, know themselves, and do excellent work.

Do you have anything to add?

I will be retiring soon, and look forward to seeing new ways for my own self-expression and returning to some activities I've previously enjoyed and had to set aside during my career. I know I will regret leaving many aspects of science (especially the opportunity to work with young people exploring their potential as scientists) and the academic workplace. While I am finding considerable need to adjust to my "next life", my skills of observation as a scientist will continue to open doors and insights into how the world works, and I hope to continue helping people learn to learn and discover on their own, in many domains of life!