Get to Know: Some of the Women in Science at Hydro

February 11 is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, to mark that occasion we spoke with three female scientists at Hydro to learn more about their background, what got them interested in science and how they feel about encouraging the next generation.

Top Left: Sarah Wilkins Top Right: Dr. Tina Giles Murphy with Buster Bottom: Tracy Smith

Dr. Tina Giles Murphy is the Occupational Health and Hygiene Team Lead at Hydro. She’s responsible for everything from evaluating hazards in our plants and facilities, to advising managers about safe work procedures and leading employee health and wellness activities. Tina’s background in biology and neuroscience led her to pursue Master’s degrees in medicine and occupational hygiene from the University of Toronto, and then her PhD in occupational epidemiology from Memorial University.

Tracy Smith is the Manager of Safety, Health and Environment at the Holyrood Thermal Generating Station. She keeps our employees safe in addition to ensuring we adhere to environmental regulations and requirements at the plant. Tracy completed a Bachelor of Science (chemistry) from Memorial University and a Master’s in Chemical Engineering from the University of New Brunswick before spending more than a decade at the North Atlantic Refinery at Come by Chance and finally joining the Hydro team.

Sarah Wilkins is the Document and Records Management Coordinator with our Environment Services department. She joined the team shortly after graduating from Memorial University with a Bachelor of Science in Biology. Sarah assists with regulatory audits, maintenance of Hydro’s ISO-registered environmental management system, conducts field work, prepares environmental reports for regulators and partner organizations, and on top of all that, chairs our employee Go Green Committee.

Let’s start at the beginning, when did you first get interested in science and how did that influence your education and career path?

Tina: As far back as I can remember I’ve always been interested in science. I recall a career day in junior high school when I dressed up as a police officer, but my actual interest was in forensic science. Growing up I watched every single season of Law and Order because I loved the science behind police work! I started in university studying biology and neuroscience but always knew I wanted to go further.

Tracy: I absolutely loved chemistry, physics and math in high school – the teachers were great and made learning exciting. I was interested in understanding why things moved or reacted the way they did.  My high school chemistry teacher is the reason I decided to continue with science. During my undergraduate degree, I discovered that I wanted to continue my education and decided to pursue Chemical Engineering – I was an experimental person with a love of chemistry.  I wanted to be a part of creating new products and substances, while also managing those resources and ensuring it was done safely.

Sarah: I was always an outdoor kid but my affinity towards science started in junior high when I became passionate about environmental issues. Chemistry and physics challenged me (in the way that I enjoyed!) but biology really merged my love of the science, being outdoors, and nature conservation. Early in high school, I became involved with the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Student Summer Employment Program, a program where you work closely with a group of girls your age in labs and placements all throughout MUN and other partner organizations. That really had a positive influence on me.

Do you remember facing any barriers to pursuing science along the way, either growing up or in university? And have you seen a change in attitudes towards women in science over the years?

Tina: I’ve faced a lot of barriers and challenges as a woman pursuing a career in science. While I was doing my PhD I was also working full time and had two children at home, so work-life balance and time management were huge challenges. Before joining Hydro I faced many challenges entering into a largely male-dominated occupation, and unfortunately experienced everything from the lack of available work clothes and PPE for women, to intimidation and harassment. This was early in my career and it greatly impacted my self-confidence. I do really see a positive difference in the last 20 years, but there is still a long way to go in terms of work-life balance for women in the workplace, especially for those who are the primary caregivers for children or other family members.

Tracy: For me, I’ve had a lot of great teachers and supportive family who always told me to pursue my passion. So I’ve not really faced those barriers and I’m very grateful for that, since I know that’s not the case for everyone.

Sarah: Through my work at WISE I often faced questions like, “why do women need their own program?” and, “aren’t there enough women in science and engineering?” My response would be that women are becoming more engaged in STEM fields because of the success of these programs. I was fortunate to be supported in STEM but I have spoken to many women who faced challenges in the past 30 years, so I do think attitudes have changed for the better over time. While not as obvious, I think women in science still face barriers through unconscious bias. There is still a need to challenge our assumptions about what women can and can’t do and leave preconceived notions at the door.

What advice would you give to a young girl who wants to pursue science as a career?

Tina: Do whatever you have to do to make your dreams come true. Don’t take no for an answer, find a way and don’t give up because it is possible to get the education you want, the job you want, and the family you want. Find your self-confidence early on in life and protect it. Look to the strong females in your life for inspiration. Be seen and be heard, never be afraid to speak your mind.

Tracy: Science and engineering is so exciting, with the continual development and discovery of new things! Don’t box yourself in or limit yourself – if you think you can do something, do it – don’t hold back.  If you are passionate about something and enjoy it, pursue it completely.

Sarah: Don’t let failure dishearten you. And if your field *feels* fun, then do it!

What is it about working at Hydro that you are most proud of?

Tina: Hydro has given me the opportunity to apply my background and knowledge in epidemiology, combined with my skill set as an Occupational Hygienist. When the COVID-19 pandemic started I knew it was my place to manage and guide our pandemic response plan and successfully navigate the company through the next couple of years. It took 17 years for me to find my voice and the confidence to speak up when I really needed to, and I’m very happy and proud that I finally did.

Tracy: For me it’s our safety credo. Safety is everyone’s responsibility and we are committed to keeping everyone safe. We also recognize that in the work we do, we are all environmental stewards. It’s also great to work with teams that are inclusive, diverse and work collaboratively.

Sarah: It makes me proud to work amongst the people at Hydro. I could share so many stories of how, from day one, people here have surprised me with their kindness and open-mindedness, and they still do.