The CBR Celebrates #WomenInScience: meet Marie-Soleil Smith, Ph.D. candidate in the Dr. Côté lab 

For the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we had the pleasure of speaking with the CBR women scientists at different points in their career journey, including Marie-Soleil Smith, Ph.D. candidate in the Dr. Côté lab. 

Tell us about yourself:

I was raised in Nanton, AB, a small town of 2000 people about an hour South of Calgary. Growing up, I was a competitive dancer, and was so involved that I went to a high school that specialized in balancing athletics with academics. I continued to dance on the UBC Dance Team during my undergrad in Microbiology and Immunology. Although I no longer dance as frequently as I used to, I now love staying active through running, cycling, yoga, and playing volleyball.

Tell us about your research:

Each year, approximately 1.1 million children are exposed to antiretrovirals (ARVs) in utero to prevent vertical transmission of HIV from mother to child. Most ARVs can cross the placenta, but the short- and long- term safety of many ARVs have not been fully characterized in the context of pregnancy. In my research I compare the effects of ARVs on cultured human embryonic stem cells as a model of a developing embryo and examine the mechanisms of adverse effects observed. My research will provide crucial pre-clinical information on the relative toxicity/safety of ARVs, which may help inform and guide future human trials and strategies for the treatment of HIV in women of reproductive age.

What has been your biggest challenge as a scientist?

Something that continues to challenge me as a scientist is imposter syndrome. As a first-generation graduate student it is hard to feel like I belong. Overall, I do think this challenge has also been a blessing as I’ve had to push myself to be self-motivated. It is also why I am so involved in extracurricular activities and desire to contribute to the scientific communities I am a part of.

What is your favourite thing about science?

You can learn something new every single day! It sounds cliché, but the world of science is so broad, exciting, and fantastic and there’s always a new problem to solve.

Do you have any advice for young girls interested in STEM?

Never be afraid to try something new and keep your options open. Every path you take in life can be filled with lots of detours, U-turns, and traffic circles so enjoy the ride and know that you can always go back, forward, or whichever direction you choose.

What award or achievement are you most proud of?

I feel so privileged to have received the Killam Doctoral Scholarship. It is an honour to hold an award that recognizes well-rounded students who are contributing to the advancement of learning.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Happy International Day of Women and Girls in Science to all my mentors and mentees along my journey!


Thanks to Marie-Soleil for sharing her story with us! February 11 is recognized by the United Nations as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, which highlights the contributions of women in STEM and aims for full and equal access to participation in science, technology, and innovation for women and girls.