There are many things to admire about Dr. Nemer, including her motto “work hard, play harder.” She earned a PhD in chemistry and then switched her research focus to biology; was the the VP of Research at the University of Ottawa for 11 years; is an advocate for diversity in science; and has trained over 100 students in her research lab.
But what really hit home for me was her backstory and tremendous perseverance.
In a press conference announcing her new role, Justin Trudeau said, “as a young person Dr. Nemer knew that she wanted to be a scientist & didn’t let anything stand in her way.” He shared the story of how she grew up in Lebanon during a time when her middle school teachers would say, ‘little girls shouldn’t go into science.’
She disagreed and became the first young woman in her high school to study science.
She left Lebanon on her own to continue her education after high school. After completing some education in the US, she fell in love with Montréal and earned her PhD at McGill.
My mom was the first in her family to pursue higher education, and she did this much to the disapproval of many around her. Seeing Dr. Nemer be appointed to such a powerful and prestigious position, hearing her speak with the same accent as those in my family, and knowing what she had to get through to get up to that podium in Ottawa means so much to me and many immigrants and women around the world.
Her ability to survive and thrive in challenging environments will serve her well in this new position, where she’ll be advising the government on science that can better inform their policy decisions. While science is not the only factor that should be considered in policy decisions, she reminds us that, “science helps advance key society priorities like environmental sustainability, national security, economic prosperity, and public health.”
Many countries do not have a science advisor, and recent announcements in the UK remind us how important it is to choose these advisors carefully. While we are lucky here in Canada to finally receive better representation, it is not something that has just fallen into our laps. Canadians have been passionately fighting for this for years through persistent advocacy led by Evidence for Democracy, and dialogue in support of the Fundamental Science Review (#SupportTheReport). So for those in countries where the science policy is looking bleak right now, there is hope if you’re willing to fight for it.
And it is worth fighting for.
Some advice from Dr. Mener from an older interview that is useful both in and out of the lab: “Don’t get discouraged even when the results are not what you expected. Sometimes, this is how you make your greatest discoveries.”
Dr. Nemer concluded her inaugural speech to the press with, “I’m taking this job to make a difference, and I intend to do so. Thank you. Merci. And onto the work.”
Samantha Yammine is a Science Communicator and PhD Candidate at the University of Toronto researching how stem cells build and maintain the brain. She makes science fun and friendly by sharing it daily on instagram.com/science.sam. Chat with her more about this on Twitter @SamanthaZY, or visit samanthayammine.com for more.