Waterloo ceiling breaker Melanie Campbell challenges the status quo

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Melanie Campbell

Professor Melanie Campbell discovered her love of physics in the early 1970s, when there were very few women in her undergraduate program and not a single female professor.

I have to say that most of my professors were very encouraging. I was very lucky … I remember one of them saying, ‘I don’t want to see you getting coffee for anyone or doing any filing. You're here to do research.’ ”

Today, Campbell is a world-class physicist developing imaging devices for the eye to improve diagnosis of illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease.

She also works tirelessly to remove barriers for women in academia. Few realize the instrumental role Campbell played in implementing spousal accommodation, parental leaves, the availability of day care on campus and more equitable hiring practices at the University of Waterloo.

I want to put policies in place so other people don’t have to be the first,” said Campbell, a Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and School of Optometry and Vision Science.

Leading by example, Campbell was the first woman graduate student in Applied Mathematics at Australian National University. She was also the first person to take maternity leaves as a CSIRO Postdoctoral Fellow and as an NSERC University Research Fellow.

Having broken new ground, Campbell turned around to support and promote the next generation of female academics.

Each time I see a hurdle or experience a difficulty … I try to do something so other people won’t face the same situation. I think everyone should keep working toward an inclusive environment with more gender balance," said Campbell.

Through her leadership roles on various local, national and international committees, Campbell has tirelessly worked to remove the barriers to the success of women faculty members. She spearheaded the NSERC University Faculty Awards (UFA’s), a salary award to facilitate the entry of women and aboriginals into faculty positions.

At Waterloo, Campbell pushed for the availability of day care facilities for infants and reserved space for newly arrived faculty members. While working at NSERC, her advocacy for maternity and parental leave for NSERC-funded students and fellows resulted in a policy that supported women’s success in academia.

Campbell has encouraged, supported and mentored colleagues and students. Her nomination of two women candidates for NSERC UFA’s increased the number of female faculty in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Campbell’s percentage of female doctoral students is 17 per cent higher than the national average. Many of her students have continued on to become faculty members, industry scientists and senior university administrators.

In February, Campbell was awarded a 2015 Status of Women Award of Distinction by the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Association (OCUFA) for her work on improving the position of academic women through organizational, policy and educational leadership.

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