As a long-time volunteer with Youth Science Canada, UBC professor Judith Soon (BSc’74, MSc’95, PhD’00) is nurturing the next generation of scientists.
Dr. Judith Soon’s first volunteer involvement with Youth Science Canada—the country’s leading organization for engaging and supporting young scientists—was, by her own account, a bit of an accident.
It all started in 1991 during a teachers’ strike, when the mother of three was faced with a predicament: her son had been selected to participate in the organization’s Canada-Wide Science Fair, but no teacher was available to chaperone him. The science fair is a yearly competition involving 500 of the brightest young minds from across the country. Since it was being held in Vancouver—a reasonable drive from the Abbotsford area where they lived—Judith decided to accompany him herself.
All of a sudden, and knowing absolutely nothing about science fairs, she found herself thrown in the middle of the keenest group of students in all of Canada. She witnessed first-hand the thrill, excitement and sense of belonging the students enjoyed as they met other youngsters who were just as enthusiastic about science. All of it made her realize that this was something she could become passionate about, because it meant mentoring the next generation of scientists.
Judith took on increasingly challenging roles within the organization. After being a parent chaperone, a regional judge for 17 years, a chief regional judge and participating as a delegate at several Canada-Wide Science Fairs, she was selected to lead the National Judging Committee as national judge-in-chief. Her involvement with Youth Science Canada and commitment to her role earned her the 2011 Distinguished Service Award.
So what does a national judge-in-chief actually do? One thing to which Judith and her committee are especially dedicated is promoting and raising awareness of ethics in scientific practice and the proper way of conducting experiments. She wants to ensure that the next generation of researchers adopts good practices from the beginning. Through workshops, presentations and mentoring aimed at regional level representatives, who in turn interact with the teachers and the students, the national committee ensures that this information filters down to all the high schools and elementary schools in the country.
This may sound a little overwhelming, but Judith’s list of challenging roles doesn’t end here. She is also an assistant professor in the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences; the faculty lead on a innovative program to develop educational tools for students that allow them to practice making real-life clinical decisions in a controlled environment; and an investigator with the Youth Sexual Health Team, whose aim is to reduce the health and social disadvantages faced by youth living in northern or rural communities, including sexually transmitted infections and early pregnancies. With such a wide array of activities and roles, Judith’s days are never the same. It’s no wonder, then, that the only routine activity linking them is answering emails and, more recently, peering out of the car every time she drives past the site of her future office in the new Pharmacy building, which is under construction near Thunderbird Stadium. She also ends each day with the satisfaction of knowing that her efforts to encourage the pursuit of science careers among Canadian youth are a sound investment in the future.