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International Women’s Day 2024: How These Women Innovators are Making Their Mark in Science and Society

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, we are highlighting some of the extraordinary leading women who are helping to shape the tech and science landscape.

We reached out to four members of the MScAC community to learn more about their journey into STEM, how they are driving world-class innovation and their advice for young women interested in leadership roles.

Here is what they said:

Clara Agnotti
Co-founder & President, Next Pathway Inc.
MScAC Industry Partner

“I was inspired and motivated by how technology can transform business and this is what compelled me into a career as a technology entrepreneur. After graduating from the University of Toronto, and as I started in my career, I quickly realized the best way for me to reach my personal and professional goals was to find a path to starting a technology business.

“I rarely think or expect to receive accolades or recognition, such as the Top 50 Most Powerful Women in Technology award by the National Diversity Council in 2021 and the Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada by the Women’s Executive Network in 2018 and 2011.  But I realize that young women need to see and hear about women making inroads in STEM. Hopefully, I can motivate or encourage someone to start a technology business, or to take a STEM course, and give them the confidence that if I can do it, so can they.

“Starting successful businesses has allowed me to create fulfilling jobs for hundreds of people not only in Canada but across the globe. Stimulating our economy, giving back to our community, and enabling our staff to find their purpose is a huge achievement and something that I feel very proud of. With Next Pathway, our products are part of the cloud ecosystem that is supporting corporate sustainability and preserving our environment. Being a part of this movement is very satisfying.

“My advice to young women is to take every opportunity to show your value. Never wait for the big break because it rarely will come but instead take every chance to extend yourself and ensure that you are delivering quality work that is relevant and important to your organization.

“For those interested in technology entrepreneurship, I would advise them to find an area in the technology landscape they are good at, they enjoy and are prepared to spend many hours perfecting. In other words, find your purpose. If you can generate revenue from your purpose, then you’ll find your way to a fulfilling career as a technology entrepreneur.”

Qian Lin
Data Science for Biology
Concentration Lead

Master of Science in Applied Computing (MScAC) Program

“What inspired me to get into STEM is my curiosity, especially in the field of neuroscience. As I wanted to become a leading neuroscientist, I quickly uncovered that analyzing large-scale brain and behaviour data is the key.  

“Throughout my journey in STEM, I have pioneered combining whole-brain neural recording using advanced microscopic and computational tools on behaving zebrafish. By unbiasedly scanning and analyzing neurons across the whole brain, we found the cerebellum—a brain region best known for its role in coordinating and controlling movements —plays a major role in driving the fish’s decision. In fact, we were able to predict the fish’s decision 10 seconds in advance using signals from the cerebellum! These findings highlight that the cerebellum can shape cognitive functions as well, providing new insights for mental disorders.  

“Today I am the Data Science for Biology Concentration Lead, a new concentration led by the Department of Computer Science’s Master of Science in Applied Computing (MScAC) Program and the Department of Cell and Systems Biology. I take great pride in being a Concentration Lead because I am committed to sharing my curiosity and drive with the next generation of world-class innovators who will make the impacts on society this world needs. 

“My advice to young women interested in STEM leadership roles is to be confident to take on and own leadership. Taking on leadership means having the mindset of shouldering the responsibilities to get things done, and drive positive change in research, innovation, and society.”

Kavita Srinivasan
Principal Data Scientist at Capital One
Alumna, MScAC 2019

“I remember being interested in science courses as far back as middle school. As I progressed through school and university, I took more and more courses, elected to do side projects, and eventually ended up with a career in STEM. It’s at the intersection of something I enjoy, something I’m good at and something that supports my goals.

“My job as a Data Scientist is to empower customers, both internal and external, through data. Typing up column definitions is not very glamorous, and you certainly won’t hear about it in the news, but when it allows tens of other employees to accurately understand the data and build hundreds of data-driven features that help society from it, you might say it’s the most enduring achievement of all.

“I cherish having been able to grow as a Data Scientist within Capital One for four years, becoming a technical leader and defining voice within my team. I now embark on a new journey as a people leader, learning how to foster young talent and do what my mentors did for me — I feel excited!

“For young women interested in leadership in STEM my first piece of advice is believe you can do it. When someone appreciates your work, accept it instead of deflecting it. That’s how you prevent imposter syndrome and believe that you deserve your successes. Second, ask for the right opportunities. In your next meeting with your manager, ask, ‘I want to be promoted into this role, or lead this project. Can you help me get into the right meetings or projects so that I can demonstrate I’m ready?’ It may seem awkward, but your chances are much higher this way than just doing good work and hoping to get noticed. You got this!”

Carolina Villamizar
MScAC Candidate, 2023-24
Concentration: Computer Science

“My parents are both electrical engineers and they inspired me to get into STEM. My dad inspired me to get into STEM by actively supporting me in our experiments and all my robotics team meetings and competitions. My mom also played a big role in inspiring me by setting an example of what women can achieve in engineering. She has been restless, always wanting to improve and challenging herself and has been such a strong role model for me.

“Being a woman in STEM can feel like being a superhero while also encountering challenges along the way. Throughout my journey, I’ve felt empowered when I’ve presented an innovative idea and competed against other very smart people in the field, mostly men, and won. Even though I was frightened to get on stage previously, I was able to overcome that fear and discomfort, and afterwards, I only felt proud. I am constantly challenging myself to be better and, in the end, the moments of feeling like a superhero are far more important to me than moments of discomfort.

“My advice for young women studying in STEM is that there is nothing wrong with being different. Women can have it a little harder and this might sometimes discourage you. From personal experience, I try to surround myself with people I admire, understand what it is I admire from them and work toward being more like them in that aspect. Reach out to people you admire. Women in STEM will (almost) always want to extend a hand for others to succeed too.”