Professor leading the way for women in science

Category: Faculty Profiles

Faculty spotlight – Christine Hand

At Durham College, students learn from accomplished professors who bring their extensive, real-world experience to the classroom. In this series, we put the spotlight on our passionate faculty members who are committed to helping students lead the way.

Christine Hand is an accomplished scientist with a PhD in Chemistry. After a successful career as a chemistry specialist, she pivoted to teaching at Durham College (DC). For the last nine years, she’s been sharing her expertise with students in the Faculty of Science, Engineering & Information Technology.

In recognition of International Day for Women and Girls in Science on February 11, she spoke to us about her passion for chemistry, teaching the next generation of scientists, the importance of equality and more.

What is your role at DC?

I’m the program coordinator for Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Science. When I first started, I was teaching chromatography, pharmaceutics and pharmacology. Then I shifted to basically just teaching analytical instrumentation chromatography, and showing how you can test compounds and solutions.

When did you discover your love for science?

I would say in high school, in Grade 11. I had a teacher, Mrs. Miller, and she taught chemistry. I was always really fascinated with chemistry, and trying to picture these molecules and what they’re doing and how they’re behaving. I’d even look up stuff and come in and ask her about it. Then in my first year of university, the course that I took in chemistry was very in depth and I just loved it. It was really interesting to me.

Why should young girls and women pursue a career in science?

Society will always need people who are curious and who want to investigate. Science doesn’t have to be a narrow lane. There are so many different pathways that you can take. And it gives you such an appreciation for how the world works. It unlocks all this magical mystery of what is happening in the world.

How is DC leading the way in science?

We have a lot of pathways to other post-secondary institutions. They are taking our programs and allowing students to transfer into bachelor’s programs, which means they recognize the quality. We have a lot of students who have gone on to do quite well in science, in government or industrial or commercial roles. They’ve gone on to get very good jobs. Our grads are typically well thought of.

Are women well represented in DC’s science programs?

I’m proud of the fact that DC has so many women in science. We have a lot of women in the science department who are role models and who put in the effort to encourage other women, and all students, to go into science. We’re definitely modeling strong female representation.

Why is equality in science so important?

When we have a monoculture, people tend to think the same way, and science is all about discovery. If you don’t have people challenging ideas, and you don’t have people being curious, then you’re never going to discover anything. We need to have diversity of all kinds in order to challenge those long held beliefs.  

Do you still see a gender gap in science?

We’ve made a lot of strides. There are so many more women in science now than when I started undergrad in 1997, but there are still some programs that have lower numbers of women. I was really lucky that my high school science teachers were women as well, so it never occurred to me that I couldn’t do it. I always had it modeled for me, so it never seemed out of reach. I think that’s important because if you don’t see it, you don’t know it’s achievable.

What is your advice for young women entering science?

In my experience, if you want to find supportive people, you’ll find them. Sometimes you have to look for them, and sometimes you have to cultivate them. But there are always people there who are willing to support you. It’s really just like life; pick your friends correctly, and the people who are going to drag you down, just don’t bother with them.

What do you enjoy most about teaching at DC?

I just try to share my experience and inspire everybody to be in science. I just want people to share my passion for science or to at least cause them to be curious or interested in something. When I hear students say that they got excited about something or they want more information for their personal knowledge, that’s one of the best things.