Asian Heritage Month: A conversation with Linda Dao

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Ingenium - Canada's Museums of Science and Innovation
Linda is wearing a traditional Vietnamese dress called, “áo dài”, meaning long dress.

Through its Women in STEM initiative, Ingenium is telling the stories of those who dared to think differently — in an effort to foster conversations around gender equity and promote careers for women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). 

In celebration of Asian Heritage Month (May), the Ingenium Channel connected with Linda Dao, who is working with the Canadian Space Agency. Her focus is finding solutions to healthcare challenges common to both deep space astronauts and Canadians living in remote and medically isolated communities.

Ingenium Channel (IC): Tell me about your academic background, and how it has led to working with the Canadian Space Agency. What is one of your current projects?

Linda Dao (LD): With a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry from McMaster University (Hamilton, Ontario) and a Master of Science in Space Studies from the International Space University (Strasbourg, France), I am currently working as a project officer in operational space medicine at the Canadian Space Agency. In this position, my goal is to prepare Canada for a healthcare-related role in deep space exploration, such as missions beyond the International Space Station towards destinations like the Moon and Mars. I am currently developing initiatives that will leverage collaborations with remote healthcare stakeholders to co-develop solutions — such as health technologies — to healthcare challenges that are common to both deep space astronauts and Canadians living in remote and medically isolated communities.

A young woman wearing a navy blue shirt smiles as she stands next to a mannequin dressed in a black tank top. A computer and a variety of equipment is visible on shelves in the background.

IC: Is there a person who inspired or encouraged you to choose your educational path and career?

LD: The path I took for a career in space would not have been possible without the support of family, friends, colleagues, and role models. I cannot attribute my inspirations to one person. Rather, it was the collective inputs over time from my siblings, friends, mentors, colleagues, and astronauts — who demonstrated how they instilled their interests and passion into their professional careers — a key factor I consider in anything I do. Taking their successes as inspiration fuels my perseverance and determination to contribute to the growth of space activities in Canada. 

IC: Is there anyone in Ingenium’s Women in STEM poster series that you find inspirational? 

LD: Dr. Jane Goodall has been an inspiring role model of mine ever since I had the opportunity to hear her speak while I was in high school. Dr. Goodall’s impact in furthering science and environmental conservation stems from the compassion she embodies in all aspects of her work. She demonstrated the unique ability to communicate with chimpanzees, which allowed her to connect on a level no one else could attain — making discoveries even without formal scientific training. By metaphorically walking through unpaved pathways, challenging the status quo on animal behaviors, and building opportunities for women in science, Dr. Goodall inspires me to use my unique personality traits as a skill. Like her, I want to challenge the status quo for continued improvements to society, and to be mindful of the impact I make. 

IC: Describe one of the challenges or biases you had to overcome on your professional journey.

LD: As someone with a master’s degree working with nationally renowned experts in the field, distinguished colleagues, and astronauts, one of my challenges is the intimidation factor leading to imposter syndrome. The distressful feeling of doubting my abilities often made me shy to share my thoughts and ideas while meeting with a group of colleagues. Realizing that my ideas brought new perspectives to the table — challenging traditional work processes and offering innovative alternatives — I am becoming more open minded to carrying out dialogues with people who have differing opinions. I work to minimize the feeling of intimidation by respectfully treating my colleagues as supporters, rather than by their degrees. I also take the opportunity to continue learning from them. 

IC: Where do you hope to go from here?

LD: Onwards and upwards! Since I’m passionate about how space can be leveraged to improve our knowledge, health, and lives, I hope to continue my career along the trajectory of space exploration. Working at the Canadian Space Agency means I am at the forefront of creating space opportunities in Canada. I continue to learn, and to make space a common dinner table topic of conversation. I hope to create an impact where I contribute to the advancement of the space health discipline, towards new horizons of further and longer human space exploration. 

IC: It’s Asian Heritage Month, which is a time of celebration. What does that mean to you? 

Asian Heritage Month to me brings forth reflections of the challenges of the past, the opportunities of the present, and the possibilities of the future for the Asian community to thrive in Canada. 

It is a time to commemorate the devotion of Asian immigrants who have circumvented inequitable obstacles to prosper safely in Canada. Although some obstacles persist today, I aim to be a proponent of inclusivity as I work to contribute to the pathway paving process for future generations of Asians. 

It is also a time to reflect on personal core values, rooted in characteristic traditions that originated halfway across the continent. To me, these include discipline, respect and collectivism, which, when combined with the modesty, fairness, and diversity values of Canada, set the stage for unique contributions by Asians within the country’s multi-cultural environment.

As a first-generation Vietnamese-Canadian, I share gratitude to Canada’s welcoming borders that allowed many Asians to paint a part of their heritage on the diversity-rich canvas that represents Canada. I share pride in knowing multiple languages, even when it involved having to relearn my native tongue. I even share excitement in celebrating both Asian and Canadian holidays, creating a greater awareness to shared culture experiences. 

IC: Recently, there has been a disturbing amount of racism towards Asians in the news cycle. Do you have any comments or personal experiences that you want to share? 

LD: As an Asian-Canadian, I share the values of inclusivity and diversity. While the racism towards Asians has been harmful behavior, it raises the need for each individual to be aware of their own contributions to the broader systemic racism. This introspective consideration can lead to progressive steps such as reducing normalized micro-aggressions, providing support as a commitment to equity, and embracing courage to contribute to this change that would result in a more aware and safer Canada for the Asian community.   

Go further

For information about deep-space healthcare and activities, visit the Canadian Space Agency

For public outreach requests, please contact the Canadian Space Agency Speaker’s Bureau at: asc.conferencier-speaker.csa@canada.ca.

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Sonia Mendes

Sonia Mendes is the English Writer/Editor for Ingenium. She loves digging behind the scenes to tell the quirky, colourful stories of museum life and all things related to science and innovation.