Meet the Faculty of Applied Sciences’ new Associate Dean, Research and Graduate Studies
Engineering science professor Parvaneh Saeedi has been appointed the new Associate Dean, Research and Graduate Studies for Simon Fraser University’s Faculty of Applied Sciences. She began her term in January, after engineering science professor Faisal Beg completed his term in the role at the end of 2018.
Saeedi leads SFU’s Laboratory for Robotic Vision, where she uses her expertise in computer vision, biomedical engineering and image analysis to conduct research and develop tools for medical and satellite imaging. Before joining the School of Engineering Science in 2007, Saeedi was conducting genome mapping research at Canada’s Michael Smith Genome Science Centre and working on satellite missions with the European Space Agency.
We recently sat down with Saeedi to discuss her research passions and goals as she takes on this new role.
What are some of the societal challenges that you are trying to address through your research and what attracted you to this field of research?
For me, the most attractive attribute of the type of work I do is making a positive difference in the world.
One of my research initiatives is related to fertility treatment, which is a relatively new area in the medical field. The subject of infertility is an important issue for women as the Canadian Community Health Survey (data for 2009-2010) reports that about 15% (1.8 million) of Canadian women suffer from impaired fecundity. As a female researcher, my heart is set to contribute to this field, so that higher-quality healthcare can be delivered to women at a lower cost.
Another field of research that I have been involved with for many years is to create new software technologies and toolsets for processing image/data both on- and off -board of the satellite. My research allows computationally expensive image processing algorithms to be performed in real-time and on-board to monitor, enhance and verify the quality of the sensed data.
How did you pursue your studies?
I did both my Masters and PhD degrees in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UBC. My experience in grad school was a great one. I had several excellent mentors including my PhD supervisor (Dr. Peter Lawrence), co-supervisor (Dr. David Lowe) and Prof. Avrum Soudack for whom I was a teaching assistant for several years. My mentors contributed so much to my work ethics and who I am today. I also had a wonderful cohort of very loyal and supportive friends both inside and out UBC. They were vital to my success. I took several classes in pottery, playing music, cooking. I exercised every day, and that helped to lower my stress level that sometimes was a bit high!
What are your priorities as the new Associate Dean, Research and Graduate Studies?
I am an avid advocate of diversity, equity, and inclusion in any workplace and particularly in a university. Research shows that diversity in teams delivers better. People from different genders, ethnicities, backgrounds, and experiences offer diverse perspectives that can lead to more innovative solutions. This position would allow me to work with our schools to strengthen our graduate and research programs by developing and implementing strategies that facilitate recruiting and retaining top-quality graduate students from a diversity of backgrounds and regions.
Unfortunately, university students are at a higher risk of developing mental health problems. We need to do more to reduce the power of stigma accorded to mental illnesses. We also need to make students aware of our university’s existing resources and services to combat anxiety, stress, and depression. I like to advocate for creating a culture in which students feel safe to seek support from counseling services offered at the university level.
Another critical opportunity in this role is to establish and maintain connections with industry and the tech sector to offer more internship and co-op opportunities that increase our students’ employability and provide them with essential work experience. Moreover, I would like to seek more funding and scholarships supported or provided by the tech sector to add to the attractiveness of our graduate programs.
There is a significant gender gap in the field of engineering. Did you have any doubts or encounter any challenges when initially pursuing this path? What is your message to young women who are considering entering this field?
I was fortunate to work with a supervisor, Dr. Peter Lawrence, who was a father of two girls. He was super supportive of girls in the engineering field. Indeed, after finishing my Master’s degree, he was the one who encouraged me to continue my studies in the PhD program.
Unfortunately, women are under-represented in the scientific and engineering professions and that lack of diversity limits innovation. I encourage young women to pursue their studies in the engineering or related fields as this is a career path where you will make a high impact on society, and where your skills and perspectives are needed to ensure we can develop the groundbreaking technologies of tomorrow.