WISE 2019 Conference: Catalysts for Change

Edited by Ann Marie Elpa 

              Last weekend, I attended U of T’s Women in Science and Engineering chapter’s conference Catalysts for Change, where I enjoyed a series of workshops, witnessed inspiring guest speakers, and had the opportunity to compete in the three-minute thesis competition.

              This year was WISE’s seventh annual conference, and it was the most successful yet. Over twenty companies were in attendance, hands full with free swag and networking opportunities. Three competitions challenged attendees from universities all across Canada for thousands of dollars in prize money. The conference offered five different panels, featuring speakers with expertise in engineering, healthcare research, medicine, technology, entrepreneurship, and STEM innovation.

              The opening ceremony featured a presentation by the first keynote speaker, Dr. Shawna Pandya, a citizen-scientist astronaut candidate, surgeon, advanced diver, and pilot-in-training. Her talk focused not on the successes of her career, but rather on how her failures led her to challenge herself and improve. Dr. Pandya spoke about how she made her dreams came true, and how really, her achievements didn’t arise because she was inherently extraordinary—rather, it was because she possessed the drive, the focus, and the ability to break big leaps into small steps that she managed to get where she is now.

              The rest of the conference proved just as exciting as the opening. Attendees had the opportunity to speak with representatives from a wide range of companies including Capital One, Oanda, Baylis Medical, Schneider Electric, IBM, CIBC, and Deloitte. Workshops on cloud computing, Mass Spectrometry, the energy industry, and building confidence became highlights of the weekend. The three-minute thesis competition, in addition to both engineering and healthcare case competitions spanned across the jam-packed two days.

              Other keynote speakers included Dr. Kitty Leung, a creative technologist at the Microsoft Garage who works as a physicist-artist-fashion-designer (because yes, that’s a thing, and it’s just as cool as it sounds), Leslie Shanks, the former medical director of the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Amsterdam, Aheri Stanford-Asiyo, a software engineer at Microsoft working to make holographic computing solutions, and Chika Oriuwa, a medical student at the University of Toronto who presented a slam poem about her experience as the only black medical student of her year. All events took place in the beautiful Westin Harbour Castle, where catering for both lunch and breakfast was included for attendees.

              By Sunday evening, my pockets were full with free stickers, lanyards, notebooks, T-shirts, phone accessories, socks, and even reusable straws. The Catalysts for Change conference, as a final indication of its huge success, left me with a hunger for knowledge, an enriched inspiration, a full stomach, and too many free pens to count.