In continuation of celebrating Women’s History Month and highlighting impactful research by inspiring women in Saskatchewan, we spoke with Dr. Angela Rasmussen (Ph.D.), a virologist at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) in the University of Saskatchewan, on her career inspirations and experiences in the STEM field. VIDO is Canada’s Centre for Pandemic Research leading in the development of vaccines and technologies against infectious diseases for humans and animals.
Dr. Rasmussen studies the host response to emerging viruses and how this causes (or protects against) severe diseases. She contributes to health research by helping us understand how viruses interact with their hosts so that countermeasures like vaccines and antivirals can be developed. Her research areas include the flu, Ebola, MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV-2, and more.
“I had severe pneumonia as a child and became fascinated in how pathogens that are so small can have such a profound effect. I decided to pursue a career in trying to understand infectious diseases, and hopefully, mitigating these threats to our health,” Dr. Rasmussen shares.
She adds, “I’m proud of my work, especially on Ebola pathogenesis, but on a broader sense, I am also proud that I’ve been able to communicate about work in my field, effectively, to the public.”
Dr. Rasmussen is a strong advocate for public health engagement, which has become more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, a vaccine that VIDO has developed, COVAC, is in clinical trials here in Saskatchewan and around the world.
“I’ve been helping people gain a better understanding of the pandemic and to take actions that will benefit them, their families, and their communities,” Rasmussen explains.
Although Dr. Rasmussen has established herself in the STEM field, it was and is not without challenges. “I wish I could say that there is no longer gender bias in STEM, but that’s unfortunately not the case. Even at this stage in my career, I still encounter bias and discrimination, which can be heartbreaking.” Nonetheless, Dr. Rasmussen believes in the impact women have in STEM and that many people are committed to breaking the bias.
If there is one piece of advice she could give to girls and women wanting to pursue a career in STEM, it’s to “find a good mentor and know you are making a difference just by being in that field. Don’t give up. It's important to remind ourselves that we are diverse and powerful.”