Women in STEM: An Interview with Laetitia Morrison
Women in STEM is a series of interviews portraying the diversity of women pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) at Alithya. We spoke with Laetitia Morrison, Software Developer (Energy Solutions), to discuss her experiences and perceptions as a woman working in STEM, and as a mother of a young daughter focused on a path to engineering.
How did your road lead to STEM and working at Alithya?
I obtained a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Waterloo, with a double major in computer science and combinatorics and optimization. I followed that up with a Masters in applied science from the University of Toronto, with a specialization in biomedical engineering. After graduation, I worked for several companies in the nuclear sector before joining Alithya in 2012, where I now work on projects in the nuclear and energy fields.
As a young woman approaching her studies, was STEM actually a path that you were consciously pursuing?
Math was always my love, and I participated in contests and competitions when I was in school. All I knew for sure was that math would be somewhere in my future. During my first year at University of Waterloo, I fell in love with computer science, and that set me in a more focused direction.
How far removed from your education is your current work with Alithya?
I wouldn’t call it a major leap, but my studies were certainly more focused on broader concepts, rather than on implementation. But it’s really all about leveraging some of the skillsets acquired through my education, like logic and problem solving.
How much has the technology landscape evolved since you graduated?
Upskilling is a constant in the technology world. However, the nuclear industry is unique in that there is a lot of legacy coding dating back decades, so some of the programming languages are still valid. The logic of programming or software development may remain the same, but each new project can require learning a new language, application, software, or hardware.
From pursuing your studies, to working in STEM today, what has your experience been like as a woman in a male-dominated field?
I wouldn’t say that it's necessarily been an issue that has deterred for me. From my university studies, to the jobs I took on after graduation, it’s always just been the case that STEM is a male-dominated field. If I reflect on the past 5 years, I can only think of a handful of women who I've worked with on projects, and they tend to be the same people because that’s just the reality. However, as a mother of a young daughter, I find myself becoming increasingly aware of it as a potential issue in respect to her future career goals.
At seminars and workshops, I find myself paying more attention to issues surrounding women in STEM from a parental perspective. My daughter has engineering aspirations, and I certainly don't want her to feel intimidated or out of place in a space dominated by men. I would say that I am far more sensitive to those things as a mother than as someone having gone through it herself.
Do you have any female mentors working in STEM who you share experiences with?
I would certainly say that gender imbalance fosters a tendency to gravitate towards female colleagues and friends in similar fields, probably just based on a natural understanding of each other. At Alithya, Brandy Van Benthem is one woman in particular who I have worked closely with on a few projects, and she is definitely my go-to person in terms of work. I am also drawn to mentors, both inside and outside of the company, who exemplify a strong career woman/family woman balance. That balance is very important to me, and I want to be a good role model for my daughter.
Is there any area of your professional career still left to pursue that would complete your journey?
I can't think of one area in particular, but I remain focused on continuing to grow with every project. Each new project is centered on a different system, a different platform, and different software and hardware. I believe that technology will continue to evolve and, as equipment becomes obsolete, you have to reverse engineer things that may have been written twenty years ago in order to develop new software and programs. That really motivates me. In terms of personal growth, being hired as a junior consultant, making the jump to senior consultant, and becoming a trusted member of this team is a path that has validated my sense of being where I belong. That path has given me the self-confidence to say that I’m up for any new challenges that come my way.
You recently attended OntarioTech University’s fourth annual Women for STEM Summit with some colleagues. What are some of your takeaways from that event?
I really enjoyed it, and there were a number of really good speakers who shared personal stories about some of the difficulties they have experienced as women in STEM. Again, I found myself listening with two sides of my brain; one as a professional, and one as a mother. They talked about young girls and how they are poised to change the perception that women don't belong in the field.
What advice do you have for your daughter and other women pursuing careers in STEM?
Do what you love and what you're passionate about, and don't be afraid to be a trailblazer. And that’s not just in reference to gender; it applies to all minority situations. Diversity in any field leads to greater innovation and creativity, so do what makes you happy and don't let anyone make you feel like you don't belong.