“Science is social,” says Amanda Giang, Assistant Professor at the UBC Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability and the Department of Mechanical Engineering. “Being a scientist lets me work with amazing and passionate thinkers.”
After receiving her PhD from MIT in 2017, which focused on environmental science and policy, Dr. Giang joined UBC in 2018. Her research uses models and other tools from science and engineering to explore policy questions related to pollution, climate, and energy with the goal of bringing a wider diversity of voices and perspectives from stakeholders into policy analysis. This goal extends to making sure that STEM reflects the full diversity of the communities it is serving.
Dr. Giang acts as a mentor for UBC Women in Science and Engineering events and is an active member of the Department of Mechanical Engineering’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion committee. As an early career researcher herself, she is particularly excited to work and learn with junior scholars.
How did you become a researcher?
Dr. Giang: The summer after my first year of university at the University of Toronto, I worked in a research group that focused on environmental contaminants, helping take field samples from urban infrastructure and analyze them in the lab. The experience really changed the way I understood the concept of the environment. Nature was part of it, but so were the buildings and streets of Toronto. It also changed the way I thought about human health – I realized how important environmental and social determinants (the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age) really were. I had other jobs while in university, but nothing had quite the same “perspective-changing magic” as research did for me!
Why do you love being a scientist? What’s the most amazing thing about being a scientist?
Dr. Giang: I love being a scientist because I get to follow my curiosity. I also love it because I feel it’s a way I can contribute to confronting pressing global challenges, such as the climate crisis, air pollution, and improving health and well-being for all people. Additionally, science is social, and being a scientist lets me work with amazing and passionate thinkers: students in our classrooms and laboratories, other scientists at UBC and around the world, policy-makers, practitioners, and knowledge holders from frontline communities.
Did a woman in a leadership or mentorship role contribute to an important part of your career path/choice? Can you elaborate? How has this influenced your research/life?
Dr. Giang: Absolutely. I’ve been very fortunate to have inspiring women mentors at every step of my research career so far. These mentors have shown me that there’s more than one way to be a scientist, and that there’s more than one way to be a woman in a STEM field. One of the things I have most appreciated about these mentors is their direct acknowledgment of the systemic barriers that women and other underrepresented groups in STEM may face, and their mentorship on how we, and the institutions we work in, can work together to dismantle them.
What is the significance of your research?
Dr. Giang: The world is currently in a state of climate and ecological crisis. Science, technology, and policy can help us address this crisis, but we need to acknowledge that they have done harm in the past. So, how can we make science, technology, and policy work better for everyone, and move us towards a more sustainable, healthy, and just future?
My hope is that through more integrated, holistic, and participatory analysis of complex social-technical-ecological systems, we can support more informed and democratic decision-making around environmental technology and policy choices.
What are your research objectives?
Dr. Giang: The research in our group focuses on developing methods for environmental policy analysis that are more holistic and integrated, ultimately to inform decision-making around planetary health and environmental justice. The overarching objectives of our group’s work are: to better understand the links between humans, technology, and the environment; to develop data, computational tools, and methods that support environmental decision-making around [air] pollution, climate, and energy (with and for policy-makers and frontline communities); and to explore how diverse kinds of environmental knowledge can inform policymaking.
What do you think are the biggest obstacles or barriers for women in your field?
Dr. Giang: I think it’s important that we support women (and other identities that are underrepresented) in not only choosing this field, but staying in it. That requires that we change institutional culture – from making sure there are systems in place to hold harassers accountable, to acknowledging and preventing subtler, but also insidious forms of bias and exclusion, like the use of gendered language in reference letters (e.g., emphasizing enthusiasm over skill).
How can we better address equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in your field?
Dr. Giang: As educators, we might think about how to build cultures of inclusion in the classroom. How do we embed these values in the assignments we give, and how we evaluate collaboration, for instance?
As researchers, we can ask ourselves how these principles are reflected in each stage of the process: who is doing the research, how we’re doing the research – including defining the questions, and what we do with the research. Finally, we can make sure that there are institutional incentives for centering principles of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. For instance, we could make demonstrated leadership in EDI a part of the criteria for hiring and promotion, or funding.
This article is one of the many stories celebrating International Day of Women and Girls in Science, which takes place every year on February 11. Spearheaded by the United Nations, this day promotes full and equal access to participation in science, technology, and innovation for women and girls. The Faculty of Science is supporting this day by featuring ten inspiring women researchers who are making their mark at UBC and beyond. science.ubc.ca/womeninscience.