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Illuminate X Durham: Truly Inspirational!

In today’s society, female leaders in STEM and business are a minority. This stigma that women are unfit for leadership roles is shown through the underrepresentation of women in business and STEM fields. Women make up just over half the Canadian population yet, only about 30% of women assume leadership roles. In spite of this, many women overcome this barrier and refute to let society’s stereotypes define their career path. As a young woman interested in STEM, it’s remarkable to witness female leadership and empowerment.

Hello, my name is Jeeviga Yasokaran and I am a Grade 10 student at Sir Wilfrid Laurier C.I. Yesterday, I had the pleasure to attend Illuminate x Durham’s regional conference. The event was enriched with engaging workshops, inspiring speeches from women leaders in STEM and leadership, as well as a thrilling case study competition. The opportunity to meet and learn from female role models; Ilona Dougherty, Dr. Cecile Fradin, Mackenzie Clark, Andre Gunrah and Alina Huang, was certainly an exceptional experience.

The day started with an inspiring keynote speech by Ilona Dougherty. Ilona is the co-creator and managing director of the Youth & Innovation Project at the University of Waterloo. She encourages youth to tap into their unique abilities, challenge the status quo, take risks and be innovative. Ilona mentioned how society denies youth the chance to unleash their creativity and opinions and instead puts us into an “endless rehearsal of adulthood”. The notion that youth are dangerous, lazy and entitled is simply a formula purposed to limit youth from expressing themselves and their viewpoints. Here are a few things I took away from Ilona.

  • A brain doesn’t fully develop until we reach 25 years of age. However, as our brains develop, some features are at their peaks, such as levels of creativity. Additionally, as our brains age, those features would progressively decline. Instead of waiting for this arbitrary number for maturity, we should unleash our unique skills and abilities.

  • Get involved in your community and find solutions to create an impact.

  • “Don’t be afraid of change, tap into your unique abilities and be brave to make a change.”

  • Following the Industrial Revolution, youth and children were seen more as an economic burden. Since then, society has created this culture of separatism between youth and adults. Which led to the disengagement of youth and the ideology that youth aren’t able to meaningfully contribute.

  • Society sees young people as incomplete. It creates the idea that we are “becoming” something yet neglects to recognize our current strengths.

We youth have to push to have our voices heard, stay curious and true to ourselves. We need to amplify our impact by voicing our opinions, developing and building intergenerational relations and getting involved in our communities. We should not conform to the stereotype of what youth are deemed to be. We have the responsibility to redefine how society views young people. Although we may second guess ourselves, it’s prime to recognize that we are ample to create change ourselves. This connects to the feelings faced by those with imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is the feeling of being “not good enough”. Having imposter syndrome makes you believe that you aren’t capable, which leads to you limiting your potential. Mackenzie Clark, a software engineer in the Cloud Healthcare team at Google, gave an insight into better understanding imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome irrationally causes one to doubt their abilities and undermine their successes. Additionally, imposter syndrome makes one feel inept; accomplishments aren’t a result of skill but luck.

Mackenzie touched on how we should recognize that everyone has strengths. There’s always something that others can learn from you, and there’s always something that you can learn from others. To beat imposter syndrome you need to stop comparing and talking down to yourself, focus on value and not perfection and incorporate power poses into your daily routine. 70-80% of people reporting having felt this way at some point, so you aren’t alone in overcoming this feeling. Focus on building confidence and value your successes. :)

I also had the opportunity to meet Dr. Cecile Fradin, a professor and researcher in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. During her presentation, she explained a couple of studies she had done relating to the motion of cells, proteins and nucleic acids using light microscopy techniques. It was incredibly fascinating how she connected the study of physics with biology!

She discussed topics like apoptosis, magnetotactic bacteria and the development of a fly embryo. Furthermore, Dr. Fradin described her journey from high school to university in a STEM field. She discussed the benefits and disadvantages of attending university, finding a suitable university, as well as the transition from high school to university. Here are some things I learned from Dr. Cecile Fradin’s presentation;

  • The advantages of attending university include the knowledge you’ll obtain, a better chance of employment, a better salary and networking opportunities. The disadvantages are the length and cost.

  • Chose a subject you enjoy. This way you’ll be more motivated to study hard as you’ll enjoy what you’re learning.

  • Consider co-op programs as they’ll expose you to your interested field.

  • When choosing a university, consider the size, cost of living, climate, etc.

  • In university, class sizes will be much larger, and time spent in class will be prolonged. Expect more tests and exams and learn how to manage your time.

  • Be engaged and find opportunities that’ll allow you to participate and contribute.

I was also able to meet Andrea Gunraj, the vice president of the Canadian Women’s Foundation. Some key things I learned from her presentation were to prioritize yourself, others and human rights. She discussed how a good leader serves others and lifts others in addition to themself.

Finally, the day ended with case study presentations. The topic pertained to security concerns in digital healthcare. My peers and I had to find an innovative solution to eradicate potential threats to a healthcare network. Through the case study, I discovered what goes into creating an IT system and how I can translate that into solving current-day issues. Overall, the event was an eye-opening experience that allowed me to challenge myself and learn more about being a female leader in society. Thank you, Illuminate Universe for hosting this event, and providing me with this opportunity!

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