Honouring women researchers at UBC

March 8 is International Women’s Day, an annual day dedicated to the opportunity to celebrate women’s achievements, challenge social biases and reflect on our collective efforts to create greater gender equality. UBC Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies is committed to bridging gaps between gender equity and embracing inclusivity.

Across research, education, and university services and student life, women at UBC are making a difference in the lives of others every day. 

This year, we’ve asked a series of female researchers to share their insight into how being a woman has impacted their journey in academia. 


Julia Nakamura, PhD Psychology

Julia Nakamura is a PhD candidate in Psychology at the Faculty of Arts. She has accomplished great milestones as a Public Scholar and Killam Doctoral Scholarship Recipient. Julia’s research is focused on understanding the association between prosocial behaviours such as volunteering and health and well-being in older adults. 

“Throughout my time in academia, I have been lucky to have remarkable female mentors who have provided immense support and encouragement. Their guidance has been instrumental in helping me navigate the challenges that come with being a woman in academia, and I am profoundly grateful for their leadership. I am filled with optimism for the future of women in academia and aspire to contribute to a future of progress, opportunities, and equity in Psychology.” 

Kyrie Vermette, PhD Asian Studies

Kyrie Vermette is a PhD candidate in Asian Studies at the Faculty of Arts, and her research is focused on the interactions between Korean women and Foreign women, predominately North American missionaries and Japanese settlers, living in Korea during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This time period was filled with a rich history as many North American women went to Korea as missionaries to work with Korean women. Which resulted in the establishment of clubs, communities, hospitals, educational institutions and many more but maintained a sense of superiority based on imperialistic ideals, influenced by colonial ideologies of race and gender. Kyrie’s research aims to address important questions like how these three groups of women view each other and interact. How were their relationships influenced by colonial ideologies of race and gender and how did they in turn influence those ideologies?

"My journey in academia has been persistent but cautious. I believe in my abilities and the value of my research, but I must remain vigilant at every step. Sometimes what seems like a clear passage is actually a glass door, while at other times an anticipated obstacle turns out to be a smooth path. The support and advice of fellow female researchers is the best map I have to navigate the invisible landscape of academia."

Shayda Swann, MD/PHD Medicine

Shayda Swann is a Doctor of Medicine and Doctor of Philosophy (MDPhD) candidate at the Faculty of Medicine. Her research is focused on investing hormone abnormalities in women living with HIV and their associations with a higher risk of chronic health conditions. Shadya hopes to make research accessible for all people by increasing transparency and engagement. Moreover, her research is bringing about social change within academia by addressing a significant gap in the study of hormones, which is often limited to pregnancy-related contexts.

"I’m enrolled in a combined medical degree and PhD training program, which typically lasts between 7-8 years followed by several years of residency training. A challenge on this career path is figuring out how to have children while still achieving career goals. Unfortunately for many graduate and medical students, there are few options for paid maternity leave. I hope to see a future where women in academia are empowered to reach both their career and life goals."

Debbie Pierce, PHD Forestry

Debbie Pierce is a PhD candidate of Forestry at the Faculty of Forestry. Her research is focused on the relationship between land tenure, land and forest use and the livelihoods of women in the Colombian Amazon. Debbie hopes for her contribution to “ help to engage women farmers specifically to better understand what challenges and opportunities they face in continuing to build peace in their communities. 

"My research focuses on gender imbalances in land rights because in many parts of the world, women do not have the same rights to land and decision-making as men. I became interested in gender by seeing the ways in which women were held back; however, I’ve also seen the power of female friendships and women supporting each other, and it is through this that I think we will continue to make progress in promoting gender equality."

Natasha Orr, Postdoctoral fellow

Natasha Orr is a postdoctoral fellow with the UBC School of Nursing, working closely with the Endometriosis & Pelvic Pain Lab at UBC. She has dedicated her research on endometriosis, where her initial interest in obstetrics and gynecology was sparked during a volunteer trip to Ghana, after witnessing childbirth for the very first time. Natasha is now paving the way for women’s health, specifically sexual pain, driven by the understanding that endometriosis affects 10% of women, yet may often struggle to receive medical and professional care. 

"My research focuses on endometriosis, a condition that affects 10% of girls, women, and an unmeasured number of gender-diverse people. Endometriosis is associated with pelvic pain, such as painful menstrual cramps, which consequently may contribute to negative effects on work and educational productivity. Institutional and systemic changes, such as improved endometriosis awareness for employers/professors, are needed to support people living with endometriosis and pain, so they have equitable access to education and work pursuits."


Find out more about International Women's Day at UBC.


Tuesday, 05 March 2024