Nadine Provençal's research has found that prenatal stress not only impacts a mother’s health, but also her developing fetus.

Celebrating International Day of Women and Girls in Science

February 11, 2020

To recognize the critical role women and girls play in science and technology, UNESCO and UN-Women designated February 11 as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science in 2015.

Today, SFU is celebrating women in science by finding out why they chose science as a career and what advice they have for young women and girls.

Nadine Provençal, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences, is interested in understanding the biological foundations of stress-related disorders.

Stress exposure early in life is an important risk factor for behavioural and psychiatric diseases, but little is known about how an individual’s health can be affected years after the initial exposure. Provençal’s research examines how social stress “gets under the skin” and can change children's brain and behaviour development.

In her latest study, she found that prenatal stress not only impacted a mother’s health, but also her developing fetus. Excessive stress experienced by a mother during pregnancy can be passed on to her child via marks on their genes, which could explain why some children are more vulnerable to stress later in their development.

“Understanding how our cells are capable of doing so many different things with only one set of genes fascinated me,” she says, crediting her passion for science to an undergraduate course in molecular biology.

“I was also interested in human behavior and child psychology,” she recalls. “So I decided to merge my interests to study how our environment could alter our genes and be responsible for changes in children’s behaviour and mental health.”

For young women interested in science and research, Provençal emphasizes the importance of perseverance and having a great mentor.

“Never give up. Push your ideas even if they might, at first, not be well-received by your peers,” she advises. “It is with dedication that most great discoveries emerge.”

Read about other women in science and technology at SFU