NSERC Chair for
Women in Science & Engineering

Karen Tanino

Dr. Karen Tanino

Follow your gut instinct and your dream.

Professor, Agriculture and Bioresources
University of Saskatchewan

Karen Tanino is a professor at the University of Saskatchewan (UofS). She completed her B.Sc. (General Biology) in 1981 and M.Sc. (Crop Science) in 1983 at the University of Guelph, graduating with her Ph.D. (Horticulture Science) at Oregon State University in 1990. Since 1989, she has been a faculty member of the Department of Plant Sciences, College of Agriculture and Bioresources, UofS. She was the first female faculty member to be hired in the Department of Plant Sciences and the second in the College of Agriculture and Bioresources.

In 2006-2007 she was Acting Associate Dean (Academic). Her area of research throughout her career has focussed on plant abiotic stress physiology. She has an active research program in both basic and applied areas with 14 projects ranging from the role of apoplastic and epicuticular barriers in plant stress avoidance, mechanisms of low light resistance, the role of plant stress in developmental processes, seed treatment to induce early germination and root growth, temperature-mediated bud dormancy induction, strawberry epigenetics, as well as projects addressing northern food security (efficient greenhouse design to minimize heat loss).

She co-chaired the 8th International Plant Cold Hardiness Seminar, was lead of the Northern Food Security Thematic Network under University of the Arctic (UA), a consortium of over 170 institutions circumpolar. She chaired the First and Second Saskatchewan Food Summits, co-chaired the first Northern Greenhouse conference, co-chaired the first joint international conference between UA and the Circumpolar Agriculture Association, “Advancing Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture in the Circumpolar North”.

She initiated and founded the Prairie Horticulture Certificate Program, a home study based program across a consortium of four prairie universities and colleges with an enrolment of over 4,000 students since its inception. She was the second person to have been designated Global Fellow of Iwate University (Japan), and is currently President of the Canadian Society for Horticultural Science.

As an academic, what is your favourite part of your job?
Working with students, staff, researchers and faculty.

What are you researching and what excites you about it?

The potential to find fundamental mechanisms driving many important plant processes which can ultimately make a real difference to agriculture and society.

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

Endless possibilities: research, teaching, writing, extension, administration in government, private industry, university.

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

Yes. I have never perceived a problem on campus nor in collaboration with fellow faculty.

How do you foster and encourage diversity in your workplace?

Hiring good people, wherever they come from. Accepting international students and short-term visitors into the lab.

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

Funding is always at the core --- need to provide meaningful scholarships to encourage girls and women to enter into science. In addition, mentorship opportunities (e.g. science projects in the labs) between girls and female faculty is critical. Science projects which will be submitted to science fairs could be developed in conjunction with faculty at universities. Also allow more volunteers into the labs from senior high school to first year undergraduate levels.

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

Follow your gut instinct and your dream. There are many opportunities out there---you need to actively hunt them down--they may not fall into your lap. Take time to go after scholarships. It is not just the funding, it looks great on your CV and can open more doors.

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

My first graduate degree was more than 30 years ago and therefore, there were very few female role models around. My models and mentors were largely male except for my mother and grandmother. I did have female faculty in first year undergraduate studies, which left an impression that females can follow this career path.