This week The Medium spoke with Dr. Eugenia Duodu, the current CEO of Visions of Science and a graduate of the University of Toronto, to discuss her experience at UTM and her current work with the Vision of Science organization. In 2010, Duodo graduated from UTM with her Honours Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and Biology and by 2015, Duodo completed her Ph.D. in Chemistry under the supervision of Dr. Patrick Gunning.
The Medium (TM): What was your journey to academia like? Were you always passionate about science? As a high school student did you always want to study science?
Dr. Eugenia Duodu (ED): I think that for me it was never absolutely clear and that was okay. I know that I was very passionate about science and pretty encouraged to take it. I always loved it but I think it was grade 11 and 12 that I made the decision to really pursue it and then from there all throughout my undergrad I chose to continue in science courses because I was not only doing well, but I also really did enjoy it and it did move me. I knew that was what I would be studying simply out of interest and passion. I am passionate about it.
TM: Why did you decide to go to UTM?
ED: I actually came to UTM with my mom when I was deciding on which university to go to. As soon as I got on campus and did the campus tour, there was just such a sense of not only warmth but community. Everyone that I encountered and everyone that I interacted with just felt very much like a community and a community that I felt like I could be a part of. I had done other campus tours but I never felt that way, in some cases I felt a little out of place, a little intimidated. When I came to UTM, I just felt like “Wow, I think I can build a community here.” I chose UTM over any other university for that reason. I also loved the campus itself, the green space and everything like that. I just really thought that it looked beautiful and I wanted to be in that environment.
TM: Do you have any memories that standout about your experience at UTM? Any clubs you joined or societies that you were part of that really helped to make your experience?
ED: Yeah, I was part of the [Erindale Chemical and Physical Sciences Society] at UTM and I thought that it was an interesting experience simply because up until then I hadn’t really been actively involved in anything. By being able to be involved in [that] and then making it onto the executive team I met some really awesome people I would have never befriended or have met had I not been a part of that [society]. Just being able to create a little bit of a community in the faculty of chemistry was important to me. I had awesome memories with professors [and] I had awesome memories with friends. I had so many good times, even the late nights studying, or staying up in the library. As much as it was stressful I was always with good friends who I considered family and there was always just this overwhelming sense of support and dedication around me.
TM: Has UTM shaped the way you pursue any of your leadership roles or any of your career paths?
ED: I think really what stands out for me has been the amazing professors I had the opportunity to meet and get to know. I think the overwhelming support I have gotten on a personal level at UTM has really shaped the way I interact with people now in terms of just taking time to listen to them and being forthcoming with connecting people with new opportunities. I felt like all of the professors I spoke to were really encouraging. To be able to carry that forward has been important in what I do now.
TM: What exactly did your research focus on in Patrick Gunning’s lab?
ED: Patrick Gunning’s lab is a medicinal chemistry lab. Personally, the research I engaged in was also in medicinal chemistry but more in the area of recognition. I was responsible for helping to develop detection tools that could be used as diagnostic tools for cancer and Alzheimer’s research.
TM: What interested you about this particular field of research?
ED: I had been familiar with Dr. Gunning’s work in my undergrad and I really wanted to be a part of a lab where I knew that I could grow and be part of exciting research. I was really impressed with the opportunity, so I decided to go for it.
TM: We heard that you are currently the CEO of Visions of Science, we were wondering how you initially got involved with this company and what does the company do?
ED: I got involved with Visions of Science around 2011, as a volunteer. I was googling science and community [involvement] because I had always been passionate about marrying those two things together. I had worked in communities most of my life, but I was also studying and pursing science, I just really wanted to be involved in something that bridged that. I decided to volunteer at one of their events. From there I got connected with the executive director at the time, who was transitioning and the whole organization was going through a transitional shift. It just was timing, I was able to assume a leadership role very quickly and became the CEO shortly after I graduated from graduate school.
And then what our organization does is we work with youth in low income communities and we empower them through meaningful engagement in science, technology, engineering and math. We do this through offering a number of interconnected programs which will help them through grade 3 all the way up to grade 12. We’re really trying to create and convene youth around STEM not only for the purpose of academics but also for social-emotional development. And really get everyone engaged and confident about pursuing stem if that’s something they want to do.
TM: Is there somebody or something that inspires you or motivates you to continue your work with Visions of Science and other projects that you undertake?
ED: I think really all the youth that we work with are our constant motivation. We’re humbled to be able to watch them grow and I think that we are already seeing the growth of the youth we work with. As I’ve said, I’ve been working with the organization since 2011, so some of the youth we’ve been working with we have seen grow and they’re in high school now and they’re still involved. So being able to see that long-term impact is what keeps us going all the time. And I also work with an incredible team of people who are dedicated, motivated and just amazing.
TM: This is a question to help other undergraduates, but how do you maintain a work-life balance?
ED: For me as much as I work hard, schedule meetings and I schedule projects, I make sure that I am that rigorous about scheduling time for myself and time for my family. I’m just really intentional about making that happen, and sometimes some days are better than others. But definitely being intentional has helped.
TM: How does your identity as a woman of colour affect your experiences in the science-related fields, have you had to overcome any challenges or have you had to deal with anything in relation to that identity?
ED: I know that in the beginning, just feeling very alone in my field has been interesting to navigate. Just not being able to see myself being represented, but then knowing that I have a personal responsibility to do well has created a lot of pressure. I used to really take things very hard on myself because I just felt like “Wow, I’m representing so many different people that aren’t here right now, so you better do well.” There is a sense of responsibility that I carry. And also for me, it’s a prime opportunity because I think as we work with our youth I’ve seen our youth step up, and our youth have been very vocal about how important it is to know my story, and how it’s also important to see themselves reflected in some cases, or just to see a woman of colour in positions of power, like not only in science but also in running an organization. I think there’s a responsibility that comes with it to make sure that I’m not hiding, to make sure that I’m very candid about the successes and also the failures and struggles so that people don’t feel like this is something that is unattainable.
TM: Do you have any advice for students who are considering a similar path in science?
ED: I would say just be very open to exploring the different things that you’re passionate about. And also, be encouraged because it is a hard road, but it is something that is very worthy. Just be encouraged even in the good times and the bad times know that people have gone through it and they’ve survived, and you can definitely do it too.