GET TO KNOW HEATHER SMART
Heather Smart, joined the National Research Council of Canada in the role of Director, Research and Development at NRC - Brookside in Winnipeg, MB in November, 2021. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering and Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering from University of Manitoba.
For the first 15 years of her career, Heather worked as an engineer within the aerospace and manufacturing sectors. She then opted to pursue graduate studies and acquired her MSc. in metallurgy. Having identified an interest in research, she took on a role within academia, working as an Applied Research Professional. It was during this time that Heather developed an interest in the principles of Advanced Manufacturing. Prior to joining the NRC, Heather was the Director of Engineering at a firm specializing in laser powder bed fusion metal additive manufacturing of medical devices. Heather is an advocate of Women in STEM and also volunteers her time supporting multiple non-profit organizations.
Q: What is it like to be a woman in bioscience?
A: I feel very proud to be part of the bioscience community. My colleagues here at the NRC are developing and qualifying novel sustainable materials for use in food packaging. It is encouraging to know that many people are committed to improving the health of our environment.
Q: Who or what inspired you to work in the bioscience industry?
A: My father was actually the first person to suggest I pursue an education in Engineering. Once the seed was planted, both of my older brothers graduated with Engineering degrees. It felt like a natural next step for me to follow in their footsteps, but also forge my own path toward applied research.
Q: Who are your women role models and not necessarily in science?
A: Professionally, I have many female colleagues in various roles from Senior Research Officer to Vice President who inspire me to continue improving myself and supporting other women in science. I also draw strength from my older sister who has spent her entire career in academia and is now a recognized expert in her field of study.
Q: Do you think there are particular structural roadblocks that impede the progress of women in science?
A: I think we are all still finding ways to recognize and identify barriers, while also finding ways to overcome them. It is an evolving process that requires patience and persistence in my opinion.
Q: Would you say that through your career, things have become better for women working in the bioscience industry?
A: Yes, I would say that through my career, things have become better for women in many sectors.
Q: How did you reach your level of success, given the sector’s gender gap, especially among leadership?
A: It has been a combination of creating my own opportunities (eg. leaving an organization to pursue post-graduate education) and accepting new challenges and opportunities presented to me. I realize now that the decision to leave industry after 13 years was the beginning of a commitment to myself to accelerate my own professional development, which created more career opportunities. At different times I have forced myself to step out of my comfort zone, and that has resulted in personal growth, and triggered new successes.
Q: What are the biggest obstacles you had to overcome?
A: Fairly early in my career, I declined an opportunity to apply for a leadership role because I felt the role did not mesh well with my family situation (we were just starting our family) at the time. However, when I returned to work, I was no longer approached to apply for progressive positions and it took me a number of years to realize I needed to advocate for myself. Ultimately, I left the organization to enter a Master's program, becoming a "mature" student at the university. Acquiring a new degree while also managing a family was another obstacle, but with high reward.
Q: If you had the option to give advice to a younger version of yourself, what would that be?
- Take an active role in your own career development.
- Don't be afraid to advocate for yourself.
- Be confident in your own abilities.
- Trust your instincts.
LinkedIn: Heather Smart