Celebrating International Women’s Day

To mark International Women’s Day, two early career researchers at Lawson Health Research Institute are sharing their experiences as women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). They shared the support they’ve experienced in their careers, the importance of women’s voices in medical research and how to encourage more women to pursue careers in STEM.

Early access and mentorship are key: Dr. Funmbi Babalola

Dr. Babalola is a Paediatric Endocrinologist at Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) and an Associate Scientist at Lawson Health Research Institute. She helped pioneer the start of a Paediatric Rare Bone Disease Clinic at Children’s Hospital in 2022 which provides multi-disciplinary care for patients, so they no longer have to travel outside of London for treatment. As a clinician researcher, her areas of interest are paediatric diabetes and calcium and bone metabolism disorders. She is currently involved in several clinical trials and studies. 

She credits mentorship and the support of educators early in her career journey with encouraging her interest in science and says that is key for being more welcoming to women in STEM.

“In Grade 12 my biology teacher recommended I go to an advanced placement school. That was when I had my first experience with research,” says Dr. Babalola. “When I got to my undergraduate work, I found a woman mentor who was a powerhouse and had a vision, and I was able to publish two papers during that time and had such a positive experience. I went straight to medical school after that and continued to do research. I think I’ve been really lucky with all the people that I’ve worked with and who have encouraged me as I built my research career.”

Dr. Babalola says she is fortunate to be a researcher in a time when women’s voices are finally being heard and welcomed.

“I think my perspective is probably different than women who were starting work 10 or 20 years ago,” she notes. “I think I’m very lucky that I entered the medical research world where a lot of women are at the table. They’re great role models and they really support and help each other.”

But she says support for research in hospitals is also crucial. 

“It takes both good mentors and a culture of research to make it easier to get studies done.”

Dr. Babalola has already started mentoring new researchers, many of them women, who have approached her.

“I’m all about paying it forward. I’ve been super fortunate to have great mentors that are still continuing to mentor me, so I want to pass that knowledge on.”

Dr. Funmbi Babalola and Dr. Kait Al
Dr. Funmbi Babalola, left, and Dr. Kait Al.

Women in science are inspirational: Dr. Kait Al

Dr. Kait Al is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, working in a Lawson Health Research Institute lab at St. Joseph’s Health Care London. Dr. Al’s research focus is the role of the microbiome in urological conditions like kidney stone disease. She’s currently looking at how a microbiome with beneficial microbes could help protect healthy individuals from forming kidney stones and how optimizing the microbiome could help prevent stone recurrence in stone formers.

She believes women’s voices need to be included in research so that it is more representative of the world we live in and better addresses everyone’s health needs.

“Women bring diverse experiences and perspectives that have been historically excluded from research, along with many other underrepresented groups.”

And mentors among those voices are one of the best ways to encourage more women to get interested in science, she says, so women can see themselves in those positions.

“Seeing someone like yourself as a role model in a successful position that is passionate and curious about science can be so influential to young people,” shares Dr. Al. “As scientists, it’s important to share your work widely.”

She notes that organizations that encourage and support mentorship, as well as a flexible work culture and networking opportunities, are likely to be more welcoming to women in STEM and benefit from having them as part of the team.

“It is crucial to prioritize an inclusive and supportive mentorship environment for trainees and professionals,” says Dr. Al. “I believe work that lets you balance professional and personal commitments, which can otherwise be biased against women, is key.”

The theme for International Women’s Day in 2024 is ‘Inspire Inclusion,’ and that’s exactly what Dr. Al says she sees in other women in science.

“I am constantly inspired by women in science, from my direct colleagues to world leaders I’ve never met. I have witnessed firsthand my colleagues breaking down barriers, succeeding in challenging areas, and lifting each other up, and it really creates a culture of empowerment.”

Media Contact
Amanda Taccone

Communications Consultant & External Relations 
Lawson Health Research Institute
T: 519-685-8500 ext. ext. 64059
C: 226-919-4748