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Farah Qaiser

Director Of Research and Policy
Evidence for Democracy
Farah Qaiser
Farah Qaiser
Sector
Location Now
Education Pathway

I carry out research and lead policy efforts to improve the government’s use of science and evidence when making decisions.

About me

I was born/grew up in: I was born and raised in Saudi Arabia.

I now live in: I now live in the Greater Toronto Area, in Ontario.

I completed my training/education at: I completed a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus, where I specialized in Molecular Biology, with a minor in Chemistry.

Next, I completed a Master of Science degree at the University of Toronto’s Department of Molecular Genetics. Here, I sequenced and analyzed DNA from different individuals to better understand neurological disorders, like epilepsy

What I do at work

Today, I work as the Director of Research and Policy at Evidence for Democracy. We are a Canadian organization that promotes the use of evidence in government decision-making. I carry out research and lead policy efforts to improve the government’s use of science and evidence when making decisions.

Right now, most of my research focuses on transparency. Simply put: can the evidence behind policies be found by the general public (i.e., people like you or me)? I review policies created by federal agencies and departments. This includes policies such as funding announcements, regulations or government bills (i.e., new laws that are being proposed). I check to see if the evidence used to inform a policy is clear. I also check to see how the evidence was used.

My days are never the same though! In addition to my research, I keep an eye out for any changes in science policy in Canada. This can involve tracking motions in Parliament. It can also involve leading policy training sessions for scientists.

This job isn’t something I trained for, so I learn something new every day. However, everything I’ve learned from my past training as a scientist has helped prepare me for this moment. For example, I know how to search for information. I understand technical jargon. I can also work within a team to meet short deadlines. These are some of the skills that I apply to my work today.

My career path is

I never expected to be where I am today! In a nutshell, I’m a scientist by training, now working in the world of policy.

During my undergraduate degree, I wanted to learn about what was going on inside our cells. To do this, I studied molecular biology. Outside of class, I wrote for my student-run campus newspaper. In this role, I was able to speak to students, professors and staff about their ongoing research projects. I also learned about different community efforts and brand-new initiatives. As I wrote, I noticed the same issues pop up again and again. One of the issues that kept coming up was the fact that scientists belonging to historically excluded communities face systemic barriers when pursuing a career in science. Another issue that came up was that science seemed to play a limited role in government decision-making.

When I was completing my graduate degree, I also worked to address these issues. I wanted to help build an engaging and inclusive science culture. To do this, I led different science outreach, policy and communication activities. For example, I’ve written about science for media outlets and co-founded the Toronto Science Policy Network. I have also led Wikipedia Edit-A-Thons to address the encyclopedia’s gender biases.

Today, I work as the Director of Research and Policy at Evidence for Democracy. I also serve on the Canada Chief Science Advisor's Youth Council, and on the Executive Leadership team of 500 Women Scientists.

I am motivated by

I’m excited to stand up for science through my work. I especially enjoy speaking to people from different fields. I also like using the skills I’ve developed as a scientist to help make a difference for the broader Canadian science community. What makes my career personally rewarding is the fact that the issues which affect Canadian science – and which affected me, as a scientist – are issues that I can now address through my work.

How I affect peoples’ lives

The COVID-19 pandemic put science in the global spotlight like never before! Science became more common in the media. Thanks to science, we further developed tools, including mRNA vaccines and genome sequencing, that the government could use to respond to the pandemic.

But despite this, Canadian science faces challenges. For example, there is major underfunding when it comes to supporting research infrastructure and researchers. This has an impact on the next generation of scientists as well. Other challenges involve how well federal and provincial governments use science and evidence in their decision-making.  These are some of the questions that I get to tackle in my work. I am lucky to have the chance to stand up for science. I feel I am making a difference when it comes to supporting the broader Canadian science community.

Outside of work I

I enjoy reading and/or watching dystopian and action-heavy TV shows and books. I’ve recently started running, and exploring different outdoor sports, such as kayaking. I also serve on the Canada Chief Science Advisor's Youth Council, and 500 Women Scientists' Leadership Team.

My advice to others

There are so many career options open to you, from science writing, communication to the world of policy. Don’t be afraid to try something different, even if doesn’t fit neatly into your long-term career goals!

When I was a student, I enjoyed:
  • History
  • Literature and Language arts
  • Science
When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:
  • Liked helping people
  • Played on a sports team
  • Engaged in volunteer activities
  • Liked reading
  • Felt great satisfaction in getting good grades
  • Learned best "by doing"

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