Women in Biotechnology: Laura Berneaga

Updated: 5 hours ago

Ellen Tan, Christina Hsing

Ellen Tan (@yltan_art)


Established with the right-to-vote strike, “Bread and Peace”, instigated by women in Russia on March 8th of the Gregorian calendar, the fight for women’s rights never ceased to this day.


After the return of a COVID-19 carrier on January 25 of 2020, Canada entered the long and difficult battle of a pandemic with the rest of the world. With this turn of events, biotechnology has also undergone dramatic changes. In the midst of one of the biggest disease outbreaks in history, numerous female leaders of biotechnology stepped up to help mitigate the situation.


Laura Berneaga is currently in the process of completing her Masters in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Toronto. With a passion in bioengineering, her current project is on designing an agnostic framework for ventilator controllers, operating on both HALO (High Acuity Low Operability) and full ICU ventilators. Her work is also a supporting pillar in the battle against COVID-19 right now.


“Working on an engineering project with a purpose, helping people with a purpose is what I strive to achieve in the future”


If you had to describe yourself with 3 points, what would they be?

  1. Passionate

  2. Ambitious

  3. Empathetic

Being a passionate person overall, when Laura becomes set on something, she becomes very determined to explore these topics to the fullest. She continuously finds new ways to improve herself, and she always keeps others’ interests in mind.

Being a woman in engineering and biotechnology…


“I definitely think there are efforts being made in the representation of women in the industry, but we can always be doing much more”


On the academia side, there has been a considerable increase in Laura’s female professors and engineering peers. One of Laura’s inspirations is Professor Milica Radisic at the University of Toronto, where she runs the Laboratory for Functional Tissue Engineering. Currently, she is using her research to develop products with start-ups in order to help healthcare workers with their wounds caused by long wear of PPE (personal protective equipment).

“There are a lot of preconceived notions about female engineers, and that is something I am actively trying to break. Female leaders bring so much to the table, and seeing women in the industry accomplishing so many powerful things really creates hope for the younger generations.”

Laura was the president for student council in her fourth year, and as a leader she learned to overcome imposter syndrome. I first heard of this term in university, and it describes the feeling that your accomplishments are all due to luck instead of your qualifications. Laura shared that one of the most important lessons for her was being okay with making mistakes

and internalizing the fact that your mistakes don’t render the work you’ve done meaningless.

“ As a woman in this industry, it is easy to feel that you don’t have what it takes to be here, but don’t give up! Surround yourself with people who tell you that you are worthy to be where you are today and you deserve the success you’ve achieved.”

As fellow women, how can we let our voices be heard?

Continue doing what you love doing and spread your inspiration to the youth

Be powerful, fight for representation, be proud


As a society, how can the world take a closer step to inclusion of women?

Don’t diminish anyone’s opinions

Always be inclusive about usability for females when designing devices and applications

Did you know?

Seatbelts were only tested with male dummies until 2011 in the United States! Females were

17% more likely to die due to vehicle collisions than males.

Forest of Thoughts

Forest of Thoughts are a set of questions we hope to ask everyone and accumulate a tree of responses that will ignite inspiration in our readers.

Where are you at?

I am specializing in mechanical engineering and currently pursuing a master's degree in applied science, but with a focus in bioengineering as my project is related to ventilators to help with the pandemic.


What made you interested in biotechnology?

I have always been passionate about helping people, and I also have a huge interest in math and physics. As a first-year student, I attended a research talk of Professor Craig Simmons on engineering heart valves that can grow with children born with heart defects. That was the time that I was introduced to biotechnology, an industry that perfectly corresponds to both my passion and interest.


What kind of future do you see biotechnology creating for us?

Technological advancements have grown incredibly over the past couple of years in the biotechnology industry. The industry continues to grow and it has endless opportunities from what the technology can do for us. For example, gaining more ability to take care of patients, detecting diseases earlier on, and minimizing the chances of having invasive surgeries. Moreover, applying our knowledge to the third-world countries that don't have as much access as we do. We should be honoured to be part of this movement.


Where do you want to go (future plans)?

There are many areas of biotechnology that I’d like to explore, but the general direction is working at a medical device company after completing my thesis. I’d like to pursue a leadership position, such as product manager or project manager, in order to be more involved in the project’s development. I am also interested in consulting in the medical or healthcare field.


If you could fix anything in the world, what would it be?

I would want to fix or at least improve the issue that initially drew me to applying to medical school, which is cancer. Cancer has been a constant fight in my family and it would be incredible to find ways to get detection earlier on and have more advancement in treatment as it is a well-known disease that humans have little knowledge of.


Who is your biggest inspiration?

I am deeply inspired by the work and knowledge of Professor Edmund Young and Professor Craig Simmons. Also, my family and teachers, who saw the potential in me and stood by my side to push me forward.


What/who is your biggest pillar of support?

My family has been my invaluable support, especially throughout my time in university. They have taught me the mindset of continuous learning and pushed me to be and do more. My friends always helped and encouraged me to take more pride in my accomplishments since I am more reserved about my achievements. They are my biggest pillars of support.


What would you like to say to the young people that are planning to pursue a career in biotechnology?

To the young people that are planning to pursue a career in biotechnology: Be curious, don't let yourself be limited to one box. There is so much to find, so much to explore in this industry. Be sure to share your findings with your peers and deliver more exposure to the younger generation in bioengineering.


References


Abrams, Abigail. “Yes, Impostor Syndrome Is Real: Here's How to Deal With It.” Time, Time, 20 June 2018, time.com/5312483/how-to-deal-with-impostor-syndrome/.


“Background | International Women's Day.” United Nations, United Nations, www.un.org/en/observances/womens-day/background.


Criado-Perez, Caroline. “The Deadly Truth about a World Built for Men – from Stab Vests to Car Crashes.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 23 Feb. 2019, www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/feb/23/truth-world-built-for-men-car-crashes.


Staff. “From First Cases to First Vaccines: A Timeline of COVID-19 in Canada.” Global News, The Canadian Press, 25 Jan. 2021, globalnews.ca/news/7597228/covid-canada-timeline/.




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