Groundbreakers: a podcast series

Photo compilation featuring three women for International Women's Day.

Groundbreakers: a podcast series

From the laboratory to the library stacks to the deep sea: Three women reflect on breaking down barriers in research
March 5, 2015

International Women’s Day is March 8, 2014 and to mark the event we dialed back the clock to hear the stories of female researchers who received funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) in 1997, the organization’s debut year. In this series of podcasts, these women  describe the challenges and changes they’ve seen over the past decade and a half, and provide words of wisdom for young women interested in pursuing a career in research.


Leslie Weir, the first female university librarian at the University of Ottawa, led a team who received $20 million from the CFI in 1997 to help 64 Canadian university libraries make the leap from print to digital. Prior to the Canadian Site Licensing Project, researchers — or their grad students, Weir says coyly — would physically track down articles in paper journals buried in the library stacks. After the project was launched in the early 2000s, Weir says researchers had access to more digital publications than they’d ever had before. That blast of on-demand information fundamentally shifted how research was done in Canada and became a model for countries around the world. In this podcast, Weir talks about her path to becoming the innovative librarian who led this project, with a story that begins on a day that tragedy shook the world.

(This podcast is available in English only)


Julie Carrier of the Université de Montréal has devoted her academic career to the fascinating world of sleep, using equipment she received from the CFI to monitor the slumber patterns and sleep disorders of her test subjects. When she began her studies more than 20 years ago, little was known about women and sleep. Now, an aging population and the effects of menopause on sleep make Carrier’s research more relevant than ever. In celebration of International Women’s Day, Carrier has pledged to focus her research more on women and sleep. She begins this podcast by telling us why women weren’t considered ideal candidates for these kinds of studies when she first started her research.

(This podcast is available in French only)


The University of Victoria’s Verena Tunnicliffe recalls the open hostility she faced when she first began boarding research ships to conduct her oceanographic studies. In one instance, the cook refused to sail, saying it was either him or her. Guess who walked that plank? Tunnicliffe persevered, despite the male-dominated nautical culture, to answer fundamental questions about deep sea ecosystems off the west coast. She was one of the lead researchers who used CFI-funds to build VENUS, a system of interconnected underwater cables that beam real-time measurements from the sea floor to onshore computers. Such on-demand access has opened the field for many female researchers who would otherwise have to choose between a career in science and raising a family. In this podcast, Tunnicliffe takes us to the deepest, darkest corners of the ocean where some of the creepiest experiments have occurred. Her story begins in the 1980s as one of the only woman on board a research ship at sea in the Pacific Ocean where she experienced a few dark moments.

(This podcast is available in English only)

Originally posted March 5, 2014