White Coat Myth: Not All Scientists Wear Lab Coats

September 01, 2017

Written by: Alicen Ricard & Vanessa Reich-Shackelford

As we have shown through our Media Depictions of Women in STEM series and our blog post, "Why it's Important to see 'People Like Me' in STEM," there has been a perpetuation of less than desirable stereotypes that scientists constantly have to endure. People in STEM are not always nerdy, socially awkward humans who never leave their labs - that is the "White Coat Myth," and we are here to prove it wrong by showcasing the many different career paths that are in STEM.

In an article by Science Council (based on this poster by Finding Ada), they talk about the ten different types of scientists. Below we outline all of them and explain why they disprove the “White Coat Myth,” along with an example of a local woman in STEM that fits each description and proves why they are awesome.  

1. Business Scientist or Professional

What they do: Use both science and business skills to make sure that companies have evidence-led decision making.
Where they’re found: Businesses, companies, and marketing.
An awesome example:  Sue Paish is the CEO and the President of LifeLabs.
How she proves the White Coat Myth wrong: She leads a community and public health organization that helps treat, prevent, and diagnose disease. As CEO, Sue leads LifeLabs approximately 5,400 professionally trained staff who deliver over 100 million laboratory tests and results, serving 19 million patients annually. She received her education at the University of British Columbia in Commerce and Law. She has also been recognized as one of Canada's Most Powerful Women four times. Sue went from top lawyer at one of the country’s most reputable law firms to the CEO of Vancouver-based Pharmasave Drugs retail pharmacy chain, before becoming CEO of LifeLabs. You can read her CEO Message at LifeLabs here.

2. Communicator Scientist

What they do: Combine communication skills with science.
Where they’re found: They can be found on television, radio, or anywhere else you can find promotional materials or publicity, as well as science museums of all types.
An awesome example: Dr. Jennifer Gardy is a woman of many talents.
How she proves the White Coat Myth wrong: Jennifer is an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia's School of Population and Public Health. She also works for the BC Centre for Disease Control, as well as making TV appearances. In addition, she used to write for the Globe and Mail and has done work with WWEST. She has been the host of the Nature of Things, a CBC show about nature and science by David Suzuki. She is also a public speaker, and one of her talks can be seen here. She has been called "the new Suzuki" by the Globe and Mail and communicates the impact of science on our everyday lives. Her website is also a must-see.

3. Entrepreneur Scientist

What they do: Use science to create their own business.
Where they're found: Their own business or company.
An awesome example: Edoye Porbeni is the CEO, and the founder of, Future Health Ventures, which she started at the age of 24.
How she proves the White Coat Myth wrong: Edoye is a Simon Fraser University alumna, with a diploma in Project Management and a Master of Public Health and Global Health. She started her company at a young age and is an advocate of women getting into STEM. In this mini interview for the Best of the WWEST podcast she says, "I think it's time for us to recognize that there are more voices at the table .[...] You know, back in the 60s, in the 70s, my mom and her generation had to really fight to even get into the room. But I think now [people are] recognizing that, yeah, there are more voices, and yes, they do have value, and yes, it's time for them to be heard. So, pull up a chair."

4. Developer Scientist

What they do: Develop products, services, or technology.
Where they’re found: Research environments or with technology.
An awesome example: Cole Brown is a web developer and designs and codes websites at Iamota. We’ve also done an interview with Cole on the Best of the WWEST podcast.
How she proves the White Coat Myth wrong: Cole is responsible for building web interfaces and guiding developers and projects to success through team mentorship, research, and strategy. She has worked in the industry for over 15 years, and is passionate about empowering technology users while they browse the web. She is also very involved in the community.
Outside the office, Cole regularly mentors women beginning development careers and has presented workshops on web performance through local event groups like Style & Class.

5. Explorer Scientist

What they do: Discover the next “piece” of scientific discovery.
Where they’re found: A university or research centre.
An awesome example: Dr. Connie Eaves is a principal investigator, director, and distinguished scientist at the Terry Fox Laboratory, which focuses its research on cancer stem cells.
How she proves the White Coat Myth wrong: Dr. Eaves' team's objective is to provide a basis for analyzing molecular and genetic determinants of breast cancer at the level of the breast cancer stem cells and thereby develop more rational, patient-targeted therapies. She's published countless studies, and currently, in addition to her position at the Terry Fox Laboratory, she holds the positions of Professor in the Department of Medical Genetics and Associate Dean of Research at the University of British Columbia, and is Vice President of Research at the BC Cancer Agency in Vancouver. As a principal investigator, she has to be a project manager extraordinaire to ensure achievement of the technical success of her projects, while also complying with the financial and administrative policies and regulations associated with the awards won for research. To read an interview with Dr. Eaves about balancing work and life, how to invest in STEM trainees, and more, click here.

6. Investigator Scientist

What they do: Put together scientific knowledge and data for others to develop. Tends to work in a team.
Where they’re found: University or research centre.
An awesome example: Lori Brotto is an academic psychologist. Her research focuses on sexual health.
How she proves the White Coat Myth wrong: Lori's research has a large community influence. She's had a positive impact in terms of educating the community on sexual health. She conducts research on women's sexual health and difficulties, develops and tests psychoeducational interventions for women with sexual desire and arousal complaints, and studies many aspects of sexual health. She has published over 100 articles and book chapters, has given 200 invited presentations, and is frequently contacted by the media as a guest expert on the topic of sexuality.

7. Policy Scientist

What they do: Use both knowledge of science and politics to make sure policies have an evidence base.
Where they’re found: Parliament, government, campaigns, and charities.
An awesome example: As the Chief Technology Officer of the City of Vancouver, Jessie Adcock is responsible for the development and implementation of the City's Digital Strategy to enhance how citizens engage with and access the City through online, mobile, and social media channels; improve and expand the City's digital infrastructure, and support and strengthen Vancouver's digital economy.
How she proves the White Coat Myth wrong: Vancouver's digital strategy helps support much of the Greenest City Action Plan, which addresses Vancouver’s environmental challenges by working with the city council, residents, businesses, and other organizations to set measurable and attainable sustainability goals. This means Jessie has to have her finger on the pulse of many sectors of the City of Vancouver. She is also passionate about technology leadership in Vancouver as technology changes the world around us. See a talk by Jessie about this here.

8. Regulator Scientist

What they do: Make sure that systems and technology are safe.
Where they’re found: Facilities like Food Standards Agencies.
An awesome example: Catherine Roome is the President and the CEO of the BC Safety Authority.
How she proves the White Coat Myth wrong: While the BC Safety Authority is an independent, self-funded organization, it is mandated to oversee the safe installation and operation of technical systems and equipment. It issues permits, licenses and certificates, and works with industry to reduce safety risks through assessment, education and outreach, enforcement, and research. Catherine, as CEO, is community oriented. As stated in the video linked above, "Catherine has made it her mission to inspire excellence in others through her sustained  and substantial contributions to community and professional service...Always seeking out the unique brilliance and potential in those around her." A “futurist,” she is building BC Safety Authority’s place in the algorithmic economy using predictive insights to create long-term, sustainable social and financial value, as she steers the organization towards its vision of Safe Technical Systems. Everywhere.

9. Technician Scientist or Service Provider

What they do: Often work in the health service or within forensic science, food science, and health and safety.
Where they’re found: Often found in labs.
An awesome example: Dr. Gail Anderson is an Associate Professor in forensic science and forensic entomology at Simon Fraser University (SFU).
How she proves the White Coat Myth wrong: Dr. Anderson was named as one of North America's leading innovators in the field of law enforcement by Time Magazine. She is the co-director of SFU's Centre for Forensic Research. She began studying how insects colonize dead bodies using pig carcasses (as stand-ins for humans) and tracking subsequent insect activity—work that has gone on to help homicide investigators as well as those tracking animal poachers and investigating cases of animal abuse and wildlife crime. She also takes her work beyond the classroom, traveling to Montana and Alaska to train park rangers and other wildlife specialists on what to look for in cases of wildlife crimes, including abuse and cruelty cases.

10. Teacher  

What they do: Use science knowledge to teach and share the knowledge with other scientists.
Where they’re found: Schools, colleges, and universities.
An awesome example: Dr. Claire Cupples is Simon Fraser University's Dean of Science.
How she proves the white coat myth wrong: Dr. Cupples taught university courses in microbial molecular biology for 20 years. She received her Bachelor of Science with honours from the University of Victoria, her Masters of Science from the University of Calgary, and her PhD from York University. DNA makes up her research interest - read all about that and see her publications here. In her role as Dean, with her many years' experience in post-secondary education, Dr. Cupples works with departments to set the strategic direction of the Faculty, oversees the budgeting process and represents the Faculty of Science within the larger university as a member of the senior administration of SFU and of the University Senate. She also sits on the Science World Board of Directors. She is very involved with campus science events at Simon Fraser, and also currently serves as President of the Canadian Council of Deans of Science and sits on the boards of TRIUMF, BCNet, Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre and the Science Fair Foundation of BC.  

We often have a specific image of what scientists should be in our heads, but it's such a vast field with so many different types. More people would probably enter these fields if they knew how vast they really were. In this great article on ways to get more women into STEM, Molly Shoichet talks about how showing girls that there is teamwork and colloboration in STEM may help more girls break their idea that all scientists work alone in labs, and girls who want to work in more collaborative settings will be more inclined to go into STEM careers.

If you are a woman in STEM, let us know what you do on Twitter or Facebook. Hear the stories of women in STEM from their perspectives on our podcast, Best of the WWEST.