This week I attended the gala for the 2012 Canada Gairdner Awards held at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto. In the shadows of towering dinosaur skeletons and in front of an audience of the who’s who of health research, six international and one Canadian researcher were presented with their awards.
Each year the Gairdner Foundation presents prestigious awards to the world’s leading health researchers. One quarter of all award recipients have gone on to win the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine. CIHR supports the Canada Gairdner Awards because they recognize the perseverance of the scientists who make significant breakthroughs. And the Awards acknowledge the standard of excellence to which we all aspire.
Juxtaposed against the gowns, tuxedos and pomp of the gala were the down-to-earth acceptance speeches by the seven awardees. They explained the value of their work and engaged the audience well. One of the American awardees invoked the spirit of the song ‘Northwest Passage’ by folk singer Stan Rogers in his remarks. The many Canadians in attendance yelled back our approval. The closing line of vaccine developer Dr. Lorne Babiuk was “rotavirus may be diarrhea to you, but it is bread and butter to me.” Set amongst the fine cuisine and china of the ROM, Lorne’s comment was an inspired way to end the evening.
A few days after the gala, I reflected on the importance of good communication. I was pleased that all of the Gairdner Awardees had kept their speeches short and just hit the essential points. My wife Brenda admires speeches that are dynamic, yet succinct. She cites research showing that after five minutes, most of the audience’s minds will drift off to thoughts about sex or their next meal.
My other reflection about the Gairdner Awards was that all seven of this year’s awardees are men (actually it was my daughter Lisane who pointed this out to me). While we have made strides forward, we need to do more to remove the socioeconomic and cultural barriers that impede careers for women in science and technology. I am particularly concerned about young girls. I have observed in Canada that they excel in math and science in elementary and middle schools, but encounter barriers in high school and university.
Scientists, engineers and physicians have a social responsibility to inspire and support the next generation who will follow us. As a vice president, I am determined that CIHR will provide opportunities to engage the scientific curiosity of young Canadians. In particular, I wish to learn more about and to remove the barriers to STEM advanced education and careers for our young women. (http://www.scienceadvice.ca/en/assessments/in-progress/women-researchers.aspx)
October 25, 2012