Tabitha Wood

Tabitha Wood

Hard work, talent, and creativity can make you successful, regardless of your sex.

Associate Professor, Chemistry
The University of Winnipeg

Dr. Tabitha Wood is an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Winnipeg. She has a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from Dalhousie University, and as a post-doctoral fellow performed research at the Ontario Cancer Institute and the University of Toronto. Her research program is focused on synthetic organic methodology in an effort to better understand the chemical reactivity of small molecules and to provide useful methods for transforming these molecules.

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

I like having the freedom to direct my research according to my interests. I also enjoy helping students develop their research skills and to gain an appreciation of organic chemistry.

What are you researching and what excites you about it?

I study synthetic organic chemistry methodology - which is to say, gaining understanding of methods for predictably changing the structures of carbon-based molecules. I like designing experiments that reveal clues that help move us closer to understanding how these methods work. It would be exciting to create a method that allows us to prepare a useful molecule (like a pharmaceutical) in an elegant and efficient process.

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

Some synthetic organic chemists find careers as research and development scientists at chemical manufacturing laboratories, such as in pharmaceutical companies. Others apply their knowledge to assessing intellectual property claims, such as in assisting patent attorneys. As well, many of my research assistants have continued their studies in pharmacy, pharmacology, and medicine.

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

My field and my workplace are male-dominated. Most of the time, sex seems irrelevant. I accept that sometimes my co-workers ask for my opinion when creating student policies specifically because I can provide a woman's perspective, but I am never made to feel token, or out of place. If I felt that being a woman was leading to my exclusion, I would mention it to them in an attempt to make them aware.

How do you foster and encourage diversity in your workplace?

I try to stay open-minded and be aware of my biases. I also try to listen to each one of my research assistants in an effort to help make sure that everyone feels comfortable at work.

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

I think that acknowledging the need for encouragement is important. Providing financial awards to place girls and women in academic programs and jobs helps encourage them to pursue careers in science and engineering. Raising awareness of the career paths taken by role model women scientists is important too. I have found that sometimes it was the personal details of these stories that were most encouraging and helpful.

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

Start looking for job opportunities related to your science and engineering area of interest as early as possible. Take any opportunities to talk with your professors and seek their advice. Be the change! A future generation of women scientists need you as a role model. These are fields where the traits of hard work, talent, and creativity can make you successful, regardless of your sex.

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

For role models I tend to look to respected women chemists that I have met and spoken with: Dr. Alison Thompson, Dr. Mary Anne White, Dr. Cathleen Crudden, Dr. Alison Frontier. Some of them have served as mentors, as well. My post-doc supervisors Dr. Aaron Schimmer and Dr. Robert Batey have been good mentors, as well as some of my more senior co-workers at the University of Winnipeg, especially Dr. Doug Craig and Dr. Doug Goltz.