In celebration of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we heard from Dr. Isabel Serrano, managing director of the Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network (MOHCCN), to learn about her scientific journey, what advice she has for women and girls interested in science and her vision for the future of the Network.
What advice would you give women and girls interested in pursuing careers in science?
For any career choice, including science, self-awareness is key. Understanding what motivates and inspires you is crucial. If you're passionate about asking questions, seeking answers, being curious about the world around you and striving to make a difference in the lives of others, a career in science can be extremely fulfilling.
With its fair share of challenges, a career in science presents invaluable lessons. Success isn't just about awards and getting that Nobel Prize; it's also about learning resilience and adaptability through navigating the ups and downs of academia.
Do you remember the moment you knew you wanted to pursue a career in science?
I remember being interested in science since I was very young. I had an incredibly inspiring biology teacher that ignited my love for the sciences. In that time, she was diagnosed with cancer and her passing marked the loss of the first significant person in my life to this disease.
As I progressed in my academic journey, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, motivating me to want to do more. Toward the end of my PhD in Pharmacy, I encountered someone actively involved in research, and learning about their career path resonated deeply with me. It was at that moment I knew pursuing research was the right path for me.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Perseverance and perspective are crucial. It's easy to become consumed by the challenges of the present moment and lose sight of the path ahead, especially in the fast-paced world of scientific research. But just like a challenging hike, without enduring the struggles, you wouldn't fully appreciate the triumphs. Reaching the summit brings unparalleled rewards. Yet, perseverance alone won’t suffice.
I had a preconceived notion of what my scientific journey should entail: a PhD, followed by a postdoc and ultimately becoming a professor and running my lab. However, as I progressed, I realized this path didn’t necessarily align with me.
Trust your intuition and follow what excites you. If the traditional career path doesn’t align with your aspirations, just keep going and you may gain the perspective necessary to help you make decisions.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a woman in this field? Do you think the landscape has changed?
Maternity. At the time, it felt like by choosing to start a family I had decided to hit pause on my career when I was deeply committed to giving my best. However, I consider myself lucky in that becoming a mother provided me with valuable perspective and even more purpose.
While this landscape is evolving, we need to see more women in management and leadership positions to truly foster equality in the workplace.
How do you hope to inspire the next generation of women and girls interested in science?
Representation matters, and I believe this even more since becoming a mom of two girls. I am deeply grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given and for where I am today. I hope that, as women, we can lift each other up, recognizing and encouraging each other's potential.
I've seen firsthand how access to resources and representation can ignite curiosity and passion in young minds. When I asked my seven-year-old daughter how she felt about having a mom in science, her response was heartwarming: “I feel pretty lucky to have a mom who is a scientist. We learn from you. I enjoy learning about new things, how they work and what they're made of. At school, I'm learning about mass, gravity, movement, position and force using cars ... it's fun!” My five-year-old chimed in, “You inspire me in many things!”
I strive to continue being a positive role model for my daughters and other aspiring young scientists, fostering their curiosity and passion for discovery.
As the managing director of the MOHCCN, what is your vision for the future of the Network?
My role is centered around executing our strategic vision and closely collaborating with the team to ensure smooth daily operations. Looking ahead to the next year, our focus will be on capacity building and knowledge translation. I envision fostering further collaborations and spearheading initiatives that amplify the impact of our work. A year from now, I hope to see increased awareness of the MOHCCN and its remarkable achievements while ensuring that it is representative of all of Canada's populations.