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Thursday, November 27, 2014

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Weizmann lauded for helping women pierce glass ceiling

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Naama Geva-Zatorsky [Gil Tamin photo]

Naama Geva-Zatorsky, who was honoured April 29 by Weizmann Canada at its “Wonderful Women” event, said it’s the support of the Weizmann Institute of Science that allows her to thrive as a female scientist in a field dominated by men.

Geva-Zatorsky, a Weizmann PhD and former post-doctoral fellow who is currently completing a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard University, said she was honoured to be recognized by her alma mater, which she considers a “world-class institute.”

“Every time I get recognized, it enriches my self-esteem and encourages me to continue. The route has quite a few challenges… It’s a lot of hard work… you can survive it only if you’re really passionate about it,” Geva-Zatorsky said.

“At this stage, most of the Israeli women – because of the two- to three-year army service, or because of our culture, or both – we are usually married, or approaching marriage with perhaps a kid or a plan for a first child. At the end of my PhD, I had two kids, and moving abroad with a husband and kids is quite a challenge, so this is a kind of glass ceiling for women scientists,” said the mother of three, who travelled to Toronto for the fundraiser with her two-month-old daughter.

She said in her field of biology, PhD candidates are usually split 50 per cent male and female. But at the post-doctoral level, the number of women drops dramatically.

She applauded Weizmann for creating the Women in Science award, which she received in 2011, because it “encourages women, lets them know they’re good enough, that they’re strong and encourages them to go further to the next step, the post-doc… It is difficult to be a woman scientist, but these enlightening initiatives really help to push us forward.”

Geva-Zatorsky, 36, who was named Europe’s top young researcher of the year in 2012 by the United Nations Education and Science Organization (UNESCO), talked about the elements of her research that are garnering attention in the scientific world.

“I’m studying good bacteria, the symbiotic bacteria in our body. Our body contains 10 times more bacteria cells than human cells, so we can think of ourselves more as bacteria than human,” she said in an interview with The CJN.

“They are living within us in an intricate bond. We are eating our food, but cannot digest everything. They help us digest, and in turn, we provide them with an enriched environment for them to live in. It’s an emerging field, and in the past few years, I joined a lab that studies these bacteria and their effects on our immune system.”

She said her findings could also help treat diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome and even multiple sclerosis.

Three other women were honoured alongside Geva-Zatorsky at the event, which welcomed more than 250 guests to Casa Loma.

Jennifer Weiner, the New York Times best-selling author of 10 novels, including In Her Shoes; Karen Kain, the National Ballet of Canada’s artistic director; and Sherry Cooper, celebrity economist, sought-after speaker, writer and adviser, were each honoured for their success in their respective fields.

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