Samantha Yammine is a PhD candidate studying stem cell biology and brain development who shares information on her specialization through weekly #ScienceSunday and #FeatureFriday posts on her Instagram feed (@science.sam). Her current academic research focuses on the development and function of cell populations within the organic brain, and how these findings may apply to synthetic networks in the near future.
“Humans are amazing creatures and we can do so much more than we allow ourselves to. Constructive criticism is excellent, but dream-bashing (from anyone) is unacceptable.” — Samantha Yammine
1. Who you are and what you do?
I am a PhD Candidate in the Department of Molecular Genetics at the University of Toronto. I study brain development and stem cell biology, and in particular the lineage relationships of the earliest cells of the brain during development, and how stem cells maintain the adult brain and can be activated for repair.
2. Did you have a mentor? If so, how did you find them and how old were you?
I consider my mom and close friends as my most important mentors. I also received impactful mentorship from the people who trained me in the various labs I’ve worked in over the years. Their impact extended beyond the science they taught: they empowered me to feel capable and valuable.
3. What did you want to be when you grew up and why?
I’ve always wanted to be a scientist — I used to dream of winning the Nobel Prize. When I was a kid I thought I’d be a chemist because I loved seeing reactions take place and always had fun making my own concoctions and gifting them as perfumes to my family members. Once I was 14 I decided I wanted to learn more about neuroscience because people fascinated me and I wanted to figure them out. I’m still working on it but have never regretted this choice. Neuroscience is the coolest subject and involves so many different areas of science.
4. What things did you like to do as a teen?
I loved to play sports and was a fairly competitive soccer player and long-distance runner. I also enjoyed reading and extra-curriculars like the dramatic arts and student council. I also loved spending time with friends (and still do!).
5. Are there any activities or hobbies you wish you had become involved in as a teen that would have prepared you for the role you have today?
I sometimes regret not participating in science fairs as a high school student because I was really interested in trying my own experiments but didn’t know that these opportunities existed. Ultimately I don’t really regret anything because I like the interdisciplinary approach my background has given me.
6. Any advice for young girls who dream of running a company in STEM?
Definitely do it, definitely be smart about it. That means do your homework, market research, and go back to the drawing board as many times as necessary. It also means don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something if that’s what you want. Sometimes the number one thing that holds us back is ourselves, so beware of any deprecation or ego that might be weighing you down internally. If people try to drag you down, replace them with others who are wise enough to be champions for you, because you deserve more champions and less haters.
7. Have you developed any insights about getting more women involved in science careers?
We need more champions of young girls and women. We need to get girls in STEM and keep them there. This means we need more support of women and girls pursuing STEM from other females and also males of all ages. We need to give successful women in STEM the opportunities to speak so that their story can be a beacon of hope on the days where women feel like it’s too complicated an obstacle to overcome.
8. What is your advice to the industry as a whole to help close the gap for women in technology?
Stop being resistant. It makes social, scientific, and economic sense to increase diversity in STEM. Next time a diversity issue makes you angry or uncomfortable, instead of lashing out, consider why and where that disagreement may be rooted. I have found most people are resistant to feminism and similar social justice issues when they either a) do not understand the philosophies, and/or b) see it as a personal threat or judgment of their character. Sometimes systems are sexist without the people within them being sexist. Sometimes words are sexist with the speakers being sexist. If you confront these topics then you are not sexist. If you meet them with resistance, avoidance, and anger, well then we’re in the realm of self-fulfilling prophecies.