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January STEM Showcase - Suzanne Balima

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself

A: I am a curious woman who enjoys having fun, bringing people together, learning from others and and challenging the status quo! People who know me well would probably label me as goofy, caring, an activist, energetic (unless you catch me early in the morning.. I am not a morning person!) I love crafty activities and I LOVE tea so much that I am currently in the process of being certified as a tea sommelier. If I had to pick an adjective that best defines me, I think it would be serendipity.

Q: What is the earliest recollection you have of wanting to pursue STEM and how do you believe we can inspire more young girls to pursue a career in STEM?

A: My earliest recollection of wanting to pursue STEM is when my older sister came back from school one day, and told me that pencil lead could conduct electricity, something she had just learned in school. I found it so fascinating! From that point on I always sought cool facts in science. I didn’t even realize this was STEM then, but I knew I enjoyed finding out how things worked. I think this “cool factor” along with knowledge transfer among older/younger kids is something that could inspire young girls to pursue a career in STEM.

The second recollection which is what led me to my bachelor in Biomedical engineering was cutting my Barbie doll’s legs open; it may sound a little morbid but I was curious to find out what it looked like inside. Once I found out, I taped it all back together. This initially made me want to become a surgeon, but my interest broadened to the medical field as a whole: “how can I build products, machines, equipment that can help people live in better health?”

Q: What challenges have you faced throughout your journey and how have you overcome these difficulties?

A: Some of the challenges I’ve faced included signing up for a bachelors in English, when my first language and my education up until then was in French. Adapting to a new country (I moved to Canada specifically for my undergraduate studies), feeling lost in English-math and English-science terminology was not easy, especially without my family nearby. I could converse in English but this was like learning to speak a new language!

Another challenge was when I first entered the workforce, and found that I needed to affirm myself in order for my voice to be heard. I am quite soft spoken and often felt that I had to “yell” to be heard, or sometimes push for my perspective to be considered. It was quite uncomfortable but I slowly learned to adjust, without loosing who I was in the process.

How I overcame these difficulties: Along the way I’ve realized is that you will never know everything so what matters most is to give it your best, and learn along the way.

In cases where I felt unheard, I’ve learned that that you are there because you are qualified, so speak up and don’t let your opinion go to waste - especially being a minority, it might be the perspective in everyone’s blindspot.

Q: Has mentorship played a role in your journey? If so, how?

A: I didn’t have an official mentor until I started my professional life, but in hindsight I think that I had a very supportive entourage who were basically just like mentors along my journey: I had parents who supported my decision to pursue the scientific path in high school, and were very supportive of my choice to continue on to biomedical engineering; throughout my primary and secondary, I recall supportive teachers who didn’t quiet me from the million and one questions I had; in university, I had a few key professors that I looked up to, and provided me the guidance and support you can only get from more experienced professionals.

Q: What has been your biggest achievement to date?

A: My biggest achievement is probably where I am today: in a position that I enjoy and feel fulfilled in, a position where I am able to continue being curious, where my expertise allows me to work across industries, and at a place where I can merge my love for humanities, business and technology for greater good.

I am really curious so whenever I would get a new job, I would try to learn everything I could about it. This meant that within a year, I had typically reached a point where I felt a little bored. That being said, I would keep my ears and eyes open, and talk to different people about what they did, in quest of a role where I could be forever curious. With some trial and error along the way, I think I’ve found that place. I strongly encourage young ladies to connect and listen to other people’s stories.

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