Dr Pooja Shree Mishra is a science analyst at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, where she leverages her scientific and research expertise using evidence-informed decisions and regulations involving the food safety of the Canadians, as well as addressing scientific and technological challenges through innovative solutions. In 2021, she became co-chair of the Visible Minority Forum, advocating for diversity, equity and inclusion. Pooja is the co-organiser of Soapbox Science Ottawa, taking place on 24th September 2022 from 1pm – 4pm EDT, at the ByWard Market in Ottowa, and she is also a past co-organiser of Soapbox Science Quebec.
“Organising an event of this magnitude alongside our day jobs means that working hours get longer, but all is worth it if we are able to strengthen the trust between science and society, while celebrating our commendable women and gender fluid folks in STEM.”
From India to Canada, realising the influence of science
I was trained as a neuroscientist and I devoted my research to understanding the cause(s) and cure for Motor Neuron Disease (MND). After receiving a PhD in neurophysiology from the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, India, I emigrated to Canada in 2016 as a postdoctoral researcher.
Being born and raised in the vibrant, warm, culturally diverse, and geographically vast India, I learned to appreciate inclusion and celebrate unity in diversity from an early age. Canada, with all its diversity and inclusivity, felt much like home.
In my research career spanning more than a decade, there were multiple instances that made me realise the influence of science on evidence-based decision-making and policy development. Through my volunteer activities, I was fortunate enough to closely interact with science and policy experts in Canada. Intrigued, I decided to pursue a career in science policy and joined the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in 2020, where I still continue to work.
Safeguarding Canadian health
CFIA continues to dedicate itself to safeguarding Canadian health by regulating the quality of food and in my current job as a science analyst, I leverage my scientific and research expertise in helping formulate informed decisions and regulations.
Specifically, I coordinate a federal programme that promotes small-scale Canadian businesses, while addressing scientific/technological challenges of the federal departments and agencies through innovative solutions. The programme is successful in that it promotes innovation and economy simultaneously, but I came to appreciate it more during the pandemic when small-scale businesses, innovation and supply chains all suffered greatly due to the unprecedented challenges.
Apart from this, I also contribute to the implementation of a federal policy framework that upholds integrity in federal science. At the same time, in my leadership role as the co-chair for Visible Minority Forum at CFIA, I continue to work towards creating and strengthening equitable work environment at the agency.
Transitioning into a career in sci-pol and breaking down barriers
My transition from academia to science policy didn’t come about by fluke, though. Throughout my career, I have had various opportunities to talk about my work with fairly diverse audiences internationally. During such interactions I constantly realised the lack of dialogue between the scientific community and the public. Moreover, historically, non-male voices have had less chance to reverberate across the halls of recognition in STEM. These factors were a strong motivation for me to transition to a sci-pol (scientific policy) career but I also knew that it was not enough. So, I decided to break these barriers myself, by initiating interactions and engaging in public dialogues.
Advocating for equity, diversity and inclusion
Soapbox Science is an excellent platform to advocate for the values that I hold dear — equity, diversity and inclusion, and due recognition of equity deserving groups in STEM. Organising the first ever event in Quebec province in 2020 was a challenge, not only because this was our first event, but also because the pandemic added to our challenges. Intriguingly though, it was during the pandemic that the science-society contract became even more relevant, and our team was ever more resolved to make the event happen.
At this point, I’d like to shout out to Isla Watton for coordinating Soapbox Science across continents so flawlessly despite the pandemic! I’d also like to give a special mention to Janelle Fournier in my Soapbox Science journey, who initiated the Soapbox Science Ottawa chapter and continues to nurture it. Janelle not only guided our Quebec team in the challenging feat of organising our first ever event, but also has been a great team player and friend, as I continue to work now with the Soapbox Science Ottawa team to organise the annual events in Ottawa.
Women supporting women is the prevailing spirit I experienced working with these colleagues, and I aspire to witness that legacy being passed on from our generation to next.
Celebrating the return of Soapbox Science Ottawa in-person for 2022
At the Soapbox Science Ottawa chapter, we continue to understand the importance of diversity and inclusion. Our past events have had participation from incredible women or gender fluid scientists representing black, indigenous, and people of color, as well as diverse races and cultures.
Our last event had to be virtual due to the pandemic, which was unfortunate but it also provided us to the opportunity to invite speakers from all across Canada. For the 2022 event that is to be held on 24th September, 1pm – 4pm EDT, we plan to again engage with the people of Ottawa at the ByWard Market, one of the busiest markets of the capital city of Canada.
The 2019 Ottawa event held in the same market witnessed engagement with around 1200 visitors and we hope to continue that engagement between the public and our incredible speakers in 2022. For that reason, we are excited too!
Organising an event of this magnitude alongside our day jobs means that working hours get longer, but all is worth it if we are able to strengthen the trust between science and society, while celebrating our commendable women and gender fluid folks in STEM. A double win, if you ask me!
Together we can!
I really appreciate this opportunity to share my thoughts and our team’s vision. I strongly believe in democratising science and will continue to work in tandem with like-minded advocates and organisations that uphold the values of equity, integrity and building trust in STEM. In the same stride, I commend colleagues at Womanthology for all their efforts in supporting women in creating a better, more equitable tomorrow!