McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

A head — and a heart — for science

by Wade Hemsworth
Published: June 1, 2012
Megan Dodd
Megan Dodd, is being honored with a national prize recognizing her outstanding efforts in community outreach and education as a graduate student.
— Photo by Sarah Janes

National award for McMaster student who shares her love of science with others

She's a high-achieving young scientist just months from completing her PhD project in biomedical engineering.

She's also a dedicated volunteer who has committed herself to showing younger people all that science has to offer.

Megan Dodd, 27, is being honored with a national prize recognizing her outstanding efforts in community outreach and education as a graduate student. The Synapse Mentorship Award prize is awarded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) in three categories: graduate students, researchers and research groups.

The award, which is worth $5,000, recognizes the efforts of a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow who has made exceptional efforts to promote health research among Canada's high school students.

Dodd says a career in science was not even a serious consideration for her while growing up in Mississauga. Science was last on her list of university program choices, but figuring that's where the jobs were, she signed up. Still, she was intimidated.

Soon, she said, she learned how much she loved science, and that it was not as daunting as it had once seemed.

"It's really fun. I really enjoy the hands-on aspect, the problem-solving and working in groups," she says.

She wondered if others had overlooked the field because of the same misconceptions that had once influenced her.

"As a kid, you picture it as a lonely, stressful life. That's why I got involved with science outreach. I wish I had known earlier on what research in all different sciences is really like. I think a lot more people would pursue that if they knew earlier on what it was like."

Today, Dodd is doing research into genetic therapies for treating hemophilia, trying to train stem cells to help the body stem excessive bleeding. She has published research in her field, given academic presentations to her peers and served as a teaching assistant.

She is also one of two co-ordinators of McMaster's chapter of Let's Talk Science, a national charitable organization that encourages young people to participate in science-based activities. With Let's Talk Science, she has organized and led activities on and off campus involving more than 1,000 youth and managing more than 300 student volunteers.

She has also established a partnership with the Youth Engaging in Science (YES) program to help at-risk Hamilton secondary school students develop science fair projects, and offered scientific outreach to students in rural areas of Ontario.

With McMaster's Learning Enrichment and Advancement Program (LEAP), she has designed hands-on lab tours and lectures in the bioengineering stream for high school students. She has also been a reporter and editor of accessible health research stories for Health Science Inquiry.

For her, the satisfaction of the outreach work comes from showing younger people that anyone can learn about science, with a little guidance.

She thinks back to her first year of helping pupils at Queen Victoria School in central Hamilton to set up a tank and raise baby Atlantic salmon from the eggs that she took to their classroom.

"To see how excited the kids were just to see the eggs and to think that they were going to take care of something living was great."

When she returned to the school for a follow up visit two months later, to her surprise and delight, children in the hall remembered her.

"The fish lady's here! The fish lady's here!" they shouted. The experience proved that she had helped connect them to the wonders of science.

Those kids couldn't have known it, but they could not have paid her a higher compliment.

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