Amrit Boese is a research biologist with the Public Health Agency of Canada. She started her journey in science when she did her undergraduate degree in zoology. In her twenties, she worked at the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) in Winnipeg where she did research on SARS.
She later did her doctoral studies on prion disease, which led to her work today with Dr. Darwyn Kobasa at the NML. Her work now focuses on studying special pathogens in Canada and around the world.
Her job is important to Canadians and, surprisingly, reminds her a little bit of what she wanted to be as a kid, an astronaut!
“When I was a child my dream job was to be an astronaut, and it’s interesting because I’ve heard people say that working at the level 4 microbiology lab is like ‘putting on an astronaut's suit.’”
She’s proud to be a Canadian scientist because biologists like her provide groundbreaking studies that contribute to important initiatives like vaccine development during pandemic crises.
In the past, Amrit has worked on the Zika outbreak as part of an emergency response team, and she has worked on the Ebola virus in variant sequencing. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck Canada, she became deeply involved in sequencing the first clinical isolate.
“There is never a dull moment when you work with special pathogens. The last ten years have shown several viral outbreaks including Zika, SARS-COV-2, there was the Ebola outbreak in 2014 to 2016 – there are ongoing outbreaks and those are the pathogens we work with, so there is never a dull moment.” Amrit says. “You’re always learning!”
Amrit's not just proud of her work as a scientist – she's also proud of being a mom. She knows that being a working mother is not always easy, but she feels it's important to show other women in science that they can have successful careers and be great mothers at the same time.
“It’s been quite challenging to stay on as a scientist during the pandemic. There was a big loss of women and I completely understand it. It was already a problem before the pandemic, but it made it much harder to hang on being a scientist.”
Being a PIPSC member, Amrit is grateful for the robust family leave that she can use when she needs it to help look after her family. She is also proud of the active collective bargaining that PIPSC does to ensure she and her family have the best mental health care possible, which was especially important throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
She says that science is a demanding career and it can be hard to keep up with everything, but being a member of PIPSC helps her feel more supported in her career.
“I’m most proud in my career for having made it through having children and staying in a scientist role without becoming part of the leaky pipeline.”
The “leaky pipeline” is the phenomenon of women leaving science careers at a higher rate than men, and it’s something that Amrit feels passionate about changing. As a scientist and a mom, Amrit encourages other young women in science to never give up on their dreams, both in their work and their family lives.
“If you’re delaying having children because you’re worried about getting tenure or you’re worried about one morepaper, or one more grant, I would say to just do it, and everything will fall into place.”
Looking into the future, Amrit hopes all women in science will feel supported at work. Job security is more important than ever to ensure all people, no matter their gender, can contribute incredible ideas to different fields of study because “we need all kinds of voices in science.”