As a PhD candidate in the final months of my doctoral degree in Molecular Genetics at the University of Toronto, my work days are jam packed with reading papers, performing experiments, and meeting with other scientists. The only interactions that I usually have with Queens Park are the times I spend gazing out at the beautiful building from the windows of my lab on the 16th floor of the MaRS West Tower.
Then, only days after Doug Ford was elected as the 26th Premier of Ontario it was announced that Dr. Molly Shoichet had been fired as the Ontario Chief Scientist. Dr. Shoichet is a well-respected, renowned scientist at the University of Toronto who was acting as the voice for scientists in government, advocating for evidence-based decision making and for public trust in science. As the news broke, everywhere I went there was a growing hum of disheartened scientists like me that were beyond disappointed that Dr. Shoichet was let go and who were worried that the new government would not follow through on their promise to hire a replacement.
saw Evidence for Democracy’s campaign to advocate for a new Ontario Chief Scientist and I knew I had to get involved. I used their website to email Doug Ford and the newly elected PC MPP for my riding in King-Vaughan, Stephen Lecce. The next day, I followed up with a tweet to Stephen Lecce, inviting him to come visit my research lab to talk about my research and discuss the hiring of a new Ontario Chief Scientist. To make the message a bit more eye-catching, I included a picture of a plate where I used millions of the fungal cells that I study every day to spell out Stephen’s name. This is one of my favourite science communication party tricks, which I was hoping would grab his attention and intrigue him into coming to learn more!
Within a couple of hours, I had an enthusiastic response from Stephen on Twitter agreeing to come visit my lab. I worked out the details with Stephen’s legislative assistant Sebastian and before I knew it, Stephen and Sebastian were in the lab and learning about my research. While I was very nervous about the meeting since I had no experience speaking with politicians and did not know what to expect, all the nerves melted away when I met Stephen and realized how excited and approachable he was.
I gave Stephen a quick tour of our shared lab space in MaRS and shared some of the exciting research happening in my lab. Under the supervision of Dr. Leah Cowen, our lab works on trying to better understand the mechanisms that human fungal pathogens use to cause disease so that we can devise better ways to treat them. Stephen was very engaged and asked a lot of questions about my research, our research environment, funding opportunities for students and research labs, collaborations and much more. We had great discussions about many of the issues that are important to me, such as the need for increased science outreach and diversity in STEM fields. With the help of my colleague Erin Wong, Stephen even got a chance to “work” at a research bench and explore the microbes that normally live inside mice and humans.
Overall, the meeting with my MPP was a fantastic experience that I would recommend to all scientists! I believe that one of the best ways to build public trust for science is for scientists to engage in science communication, having honest and open discussions with the public about the research that we work on every day with their tax-paying dollars. This includes sharing our research with politicians, to build an understanding and appreciation for science in Ontario and to support evidence-based decision making. Giving my MPP a tour of my lab was easy to plan, was not time consuming, and was very productive. In the short period of time that we had, I was able to not only share my research and ideas with Stephen, I also learned more about the new provincial government and really developed an appreciation for Stephen’s dedication to his constituents in King-Vaughan and his passion for improving life for Ontarians. Hosting your MPP in your lab can be easy, productive and fun!
It has been almost three months since Ford was elected and a new Ontario Chief Scientist still has not been announced. Take a stand and email your MPP to tell them that Ontario needs an Ontario Chief Scientist. Invite them to your lab to learn more about your research and help build public trust for science!