Panel Discussions

There will be three panel discussions held at the conference on topics important to early career women in physics:

1) Alternate Academic Career Paths

What kinds of jobs are there in academia besides research professor? Women with physics degrees who have successful careers as teaching faculty, educational consultants, academic advisors and other positions in academia will share their experiences.

Daria Ahrensmeier - Educational Consultant, Teaching and Learning Centre, Simon Fraser University

Daria Ahrensmeier studied theoretical physics, mathematics, and a little philosophy at the University of Bielefeld, Germany, where she also designed seminar courses on the history and philosophy of science. She wrote her PhD (Dr. rer. nat.) thesis about the application of non-equilibrium quantum field theory to heavy ion collisions, while teaching material science labs for engineering students. As a postdoc at the University of Winnipeg and at Lawrence Berkeley Lab, she worked on adiabatic quantum computation and entanglement dynamics and developed a math skills workshop tailored to the needs of science students. During a two-year assistant professor position at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, she experimented with student-centred teaching methods, redesigned a course on waves, and co-supervised a student project on entanglement measures in photo-ionization. Then she taught large first-year physics courses for science and engineering majors at the University of Calgary, developed, tested, and implemented "labatorials" for those courses (physics education research–inspired hybrids of labs and tutorials), and trained the teaching assistants. These parallel lives in physics and education led her to her current position as Educational Consultant in the Teaching and Learning Centre at SFU (and Associate Member in the Department of Physics), where she greatly enjoys working with groups and individuals within the Faculty of Science on teaching initiatives of all sorts.

Elana Brief - Most Recently: Senior Research Scholar, National Core for Neuroethics

Elana Brief, Ph.D., has published in fields as varied as nuclear physics, medical imaging and women's health. She has worked with physicists, radiologists, neuroscientists, philosophers and sociologists. She traces her ability to engage deeply with diverse subjects back to her training in physics. Dr. Brief received her doctorate in Physics from the University of British Columbia where she developed methods for using MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to non-invasively measure concentrations of chemicals in human brain. During her post-doctoral fellowships she used similar techniques to study the human lung in Paris, France and to analyze fabricated human skin at Simon Fraser University. After her fellowships, Dr. Brief employed her skills at understanding complex issues to work as a communications consultant for health authorities and biotech start-ups.  In 2005, she changed fields entirely to work in population health as one of the Research Directors of the Women's Health Research Network (funded by the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research). There she co-authored the book "Our Common Ground", a guide describing how to engage in community based research. Most recently, at the National Core for Neuroethics, Dr. Brief led a project investigating First Nations community members' perspectives on normal and pathological brain aging. The richness of inquiry that Dr. Brief has been able to pursue is a testament to the foundation that her physics education provided.

Jennifer Kirkey - Physics Instructor, Faculty of Science and Technology, Douglas College

Jennifer Kirkey obtained her Bachelor of Physics degree from Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario in 1983.  An urge to see more of Canada led her to Simon Fraser University to complete her Master's Degree in Physics.  She had never planned to stay in British Columbia, but while at Simon Fraser University she met and fallen in love with someone who was born and raised in Surrey, British Columbia and so ended up staying here.  While not a great climate for an amateur astronomer on the whole she has found it has been well worth it to live in this province. Her experiences at Simon Fraser helped her realize that she truly loved to teach and she has been enjoying her work in the Community College system of British Columbia for more than twenty years.

2) Career and Family Issues 

Can you have a fulfilling career and a happy family life? Women in all stages of their physics careers will share their success stories and coping strategies for combining a career with marriage and having kids.

Nancy Forde, Associate Professor, Dept. of Physics, Simon Fraser University

Nancy Forde is an Associate Professor of Physics at Simon Fraser University. She completed her Ph.D. in Chemistry at the University of Chicago in chemical reaction dynamics, and made the change to biophysics with her postdoctoral research at the University of California, Berkeley.  She joined the faculty at SFU in 2004. Her research interests include elucidating the molecular basis for mechanics of structural proteins and designing novel molecular motors; her lab combines optical trapping, biochemistry and computer simulations to investigate these systems.  She is faculty advisor for SFU's undergraduate programs in Biological Physics, and currently serves as the Canadian representative on the Human Frontier Science Program International Research Grant Review Committee.  She and her husband, also a PhD scientist, continue to work towards an optimal solution to the two-body problem, though with two young children, perhaps it is now better termed a four-body problem!

Marina Milner-Bolotin, Assistant Professor, Science Education, University of British Columbia

Dr. Marina Milner-Bolotin is an Assistant Professor in Science Education at the Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy at UBC. She earned her M.Sc. in theoretical physics in 1991 from Kharkov National University in Ukraine and in 2001, she earned her Ph.D. in science education from the University of TX at Austin. She had been teaching physics and mathematics at secondary and post-secondary levels for more than 20 years in Israel, the United States and Canada. Her current field of research is physics education. She investigates how technology can be used to improve preparation of future physics and mathematics teachers. In 2010 she was awarded Canadian Association of Physicists Medal for Excellence in Undergraduate Physics Teaching. Her husband is a physicist and they have two sons who are undergraduate science students at UBC.

3) How to get a Job in Industry  

Women with physics degrees who have successfully transitioned to industry will discuss how they got where they are today. What are the obstacles to securing and succeeding in an industrial career?

Suzanne Gildert, Applications Researcher, D-Wave Systems Suzanne's Blog

Dr. Suzanne Gildert works for D-Wave Systems, a Vancouver, B.C., based company which builds and sells the world's first commercial quantum computing platforms. Within this effort, her contribution is focused on the application of quantum computation to artificial intelligence and machine learning problems. Her research in quantum programming is already proving fruitful in the fields of robotics, genomics, search and cognitive systems. She often speaks to diverse audiences about how quantum computing can be put to use in industry as a new and complementary resource in the family of modern computing tools.
Suzanne received her PhD in experimental quantum physics from the University of Birmingham, UK, where her research focus was macroscopic quantum effects in superconducting devices. Suzanne's other interests include the philosophy of artificial intelligence, science blogging, and building robots. She also enjoys art and design, snowboarding, and entrepreneurship.

Vika Suponitsky, General Fusion

Darija Susac, AFCC Automotive Fuel Cell Cooperation Corp.

Silvia Wessel, Program Manager, Ballard Power Systems

Dr. Wessel has over 20 years of professional experience in electrochemical energy systems.  She received a B.Sc. in Chemical Physics and a Ph.D. in Physics, both from Simon Fraser University. Dr. Wessel has been a manager in the Research and Development Department at Ballard Power Systems for over 12 years and is currently responsible for the development of fundamental understanding of catalyst layer degradation.  She also manages collaborative projects that investigate the effect and mechanisms of reactant contamination on fuel cell performance.  In her previous roles she facilitated Ballard’s internal and external R&D activities, ensuring alignment with Ballard’s Technology Roadmap.  Dr. Wessel represents Ballard in various international working groups that develop H2 quality standards for fuel cell systems and exchange information on the development of automotive fuel cell technology, energy efficiency, emissions and economics.

Prior to joining Ballard Power Systems, Dr. Wessel worked at BlueStar Advanced Technology Corporation (formerly Ballard Battery Systems) where she held the position of Vice President, Research and was responsible for the development of BlueStar’s Primary Li/ MnO2 and Li/CFx Battery technology. Other experience includes research activities in silicon and CMOS micromachining for the development of gas sensor heater substrates at the School of Engineering Science at Simon Fraser University and solid state gas sensor research and development at Newtec Industries.