Taking pride and giving back

By Angela McInnes, BA’15

While more than half of Canada’s university graduates are female, only 36 per cent earn degrees in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Flora Jung, currently in her third year of an honors specialization in physiology with a minor in computer science, hopes to change that.

At the age of seven, Jung migrated from South Korea to Waterloo, Ontario. During high school, an inspiring biology teacher sparked her interest in the complex inner workings of the human body. When searching for the ideal environment to pursue her passion, she knew that the School’s welcoming and supportive atmosphere set it apart from other alternatives.

As a recipient of the Schulich Leadership Scholarship, Jung was quickly exposed to the many academic and research options that Schulich Medicine & Dentistry offers to its undergraduate students.

“Through the scholarship opportunity I was able to meet with a number of professors ahead of time. They told me about what would be available to me, like the amazing research I would be able to participate in. It really drew me to the School,” said Jung.

Jung is now heavily involved in research in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, where she works with Raj Rajakumar, PhD, to find biomarkers predicting the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Outside of the lab, she serves the University Students' Council as a Teaching Awards Coordinator and a campus guide, and also practices fencing. Coupled with all of this is Jung’s ongoing work as president of Women in Science (WiS), a student-led organization she helped develop in the summer of 2014.

Jung and her cofounders were motivated to form WiS after attending the National Women in Science and Engineering conference as student delegates on behalf of Western University. It was there that they participated in a workshop discussing the psychological phenomenon known as the Imposter Syndrome, which often creates feelings of self-doubt in high achievers.

“The conference provided a platform for students to celebrate their successes and also share how they handled their failures. I really wanted to bring that same platform here,” said Jung.

WiS hosts a variety of events and conferences throughout the year focused on fostering mentorship and community for women in STEM. While WiS meetings are open to everybody, the group emphasizes the importance of extending that platform particularly to women seeking careers in the male dominated STEM fields.

According to Jung, these women are most likely to experience the symptoms of the Imposter Syndrome. Through WiS, she hopes to offer a network of support. “We ultimately want to celebrate the successes of women, not only at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry but also in Canada,” explained Jung.

When considering the future, Jung must make the choice between numerous possibilities. But since the creation of WiS, that task has become far less daunting. She encourages other women to turn to the WiS as a resource when they too are struggling to find direction.

“Don’t feel like you’re alone if you’re going through any challenges, or if you’re facing major forks in the road,” encouraged Jung. “We have this amazing network if you need a place to speak. Help is available—it’s a matter of reaching out to find it.”