Outstanding Volunteer: Cynthia Sriskandarajah
Cynthia Sriskandarajah, a recent Master’s of public health graduate, spoke with us about her background, experience contributing to Pueblo Science, and the barriers she has faced as a woman in STEM. On her advice for other women in this field, she says “I really believe what's been helping me is that you have to focus on your passion, believing in your work and believing in yourself too, that you can do the skills and apply the knowledge that you've learned.”
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I'm originally from the GTA. I lived in London while attending Western University, but I’ve recently moved to the beautiful Halifax. After graduating with a Master’s of Public Health in 2021, I worked briefly as a Project Coordinator at the Canadian Institute of Health Research’s Institute of Human Development, Child and Youth Health (CIHR-IHDCYH), a national research funding agency that leads child and youth health research. Recently, I've moved to a more research role. I currently work at the Applied Health Research and Knowledge Mobilization Lab, where my work focuses on the effects of COVID on child and youth well being, sepsis awareness, and the perceptions of healthcare reform.
What inspired you to pursue STEM?
My whole family is in STEM, so I was surrounded by math and science as I grew up. My mom is a math teacher, so I always had her to look up to. My dad works in computer software, and my sister also pursued a career in math. But I always gravitated towards science. I like the idea of understanding the explanation for how and why things work. It fascinated me that when you eat food, that food turns into little substances that your cells eat, and then it fuels the muscle in your arm to move. Another reason why I really like science is because you can keep learning, the amount of knowledge is never ending!
When and how did you first hear about Pueblo Science?
Once I graduated from my undergrad degree, I was looking for something else to do that still allowed me to work in the community and apply science. I was looking online and Pueblo Science came up and I applied, and that's kind of how I came about it and it worked! Pueblo Science was a combination of many things that I was passionate about, like working with children, applying science, and again, just being able to work with the community.
What volunteering activities have you done with Pueblo Science and how have these experiences changed you?
I've done a variety of things. I started off supporting the hackathon that takes place in September. Then, as an instructor, I taught science to children and teachers during the pandemic. More recently, I created promotional content for the website, and edited science write ups and grants. There are so many different activities that I've been able to be involved in and they've all kind of taught me something different in their own way. For example, by teaching children science, I've learned that they are very smart and intuitive. Despite their diverse backgrounds, they all have the potential to study STEM, and understand complex processes!
Why do you continue to support Pueblo Science?
I truly believe in its cause. The work Pueblo Science does to provide equitable opportunities for children, especially for those that may not have the same exposure to STEM opportunities as others is important. I want to continue to improve opportunities for children regardless of their background. I also believe in the organization’s unique and effective strategy to provide educational materials and programs that are developed by scientists and educators.
Women and visible minorities are largely underrepresented in the STEM working field and many factors are responsible for this STEM gender gap. As a woman in STEM, what are some of the challenges you faced in your career trajectory and how do you continue to overcome them?
I've been privileged to work with many women, and often seek out those women as well. In my Kinesiology program, most of the faculty were white men, and there were only two women, and that's who I sought to do my research project with. I've been able to have those female role models in my life that I could gravitate towards. But of course, I’ve experienced microaggressions and being the only coloured woman in a room. It’s still early in my career, and I'm still learning how to overcome those barriers and struggle at times. I really believe that you have to focus on your passion-believe in your work and in yourself too-that you can do the skills and apply the knowledge that you've learned. I think it’s really important to be confident in yourself and then also seeking the support of others, seeking those allies, whether that's a woman, man, or anyone.
With the current barriers women are facing, what advice would you give to young girls hoping to pursue STEM?
Reach out to other women in STEM! They are a great support system and they’ve probably experienced a similar situation that you may be facing. I've had many great female role models that have addressed the inequities they’ve faced before. Of course, believe in yourself, because women have a very unique STEM perspective and leadership style.
What are some things you enjoy doing in your free time?
I have recently gotten back into running. During the pandemic, I didn't really run that much, but now I do. So hopefully I can reach 5k and continue to progress from there!
Thank you, Cynthia, for your contribution and support of Pueblo Science! Your hard work is greatly appreciated by staff, fellow volunteers, and students alike!
About the Author
Milena is an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto. She is currently in her final year of a bachelor of science in immunology and physiology. She joined Pueblo Science because she believes in the power of science education and that it should be accessible for all. In her spare time, she enjoys drawing, painting, playing the ukulele, and long walks in the cold.