Asian Heritage Month: A conversation with Ruth Hwang
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, the Ingenium Channel connected with Ruth E. Hwang — an ambitious, young woman who has her sights set on a career in the innovation and science industry. In today’s profile, we share her aspirations, challenges, and personal reflections as a Canadian of Asian descent.
Ingenium Channel (IC): Tell me about your area of expertise. Where are you working, and what is one of your current projects?
Ruth E. Hwang (REH): I am a trained Sociologist turned Information Specialist, with a keen interest in Scientometrics — the use of statistical methods to analyze scientific impact through publications. My knowledge in this field grew when I worked as an Information Specialist and, later, Performance Management Analyst at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). I have always been quite fascinated with the power vested in statistics and the storytelling aspect of numbers. How the proper use of metrics could not only guide informed decisions-making in policies impacting the everyday lives of Canadians, but also draw a better picture of the more intangible lines within the scientific ecosystem.
Currently, I work as a Policy Analyst in the Strategic Innovation Fund program (SIF) within the federal department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. While I play only a small part in the larger picture, I am proud to be working with such talented individuals who are dedicated to serving Canadians. This determination is especially highlighted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, where the team was able to announce a project in record time! Abcellera Biologics, announced within 19 days of the start of project negotiations, was the first project to be announced under the Medical Countermeasures initiative which SIF was identified to deliver.
Ruth Hwang, second from left, participating in a panel discussion at the CSA.
IC: Is there a person who inspired or encouraged you to choose your educational path and career?
REH: There are three women in particular that have pivoted my life towards the point in which I stand today. The first is Mother Teresa: Her humble and serving attitude towards the world shaped my worldview and values at a young age. She taught me the foundation of who I am today and prompts me to ask: How can I help others in this path?
However, I felt restricted in imagining my future possibilities until Michaëlle Jean took office during my teenage years — when my sense of identity was being formed. She was the first woman of colour to become the Governor General of Canada, and I can still remember the feeling of hope sprouting in me when I first heard the news.
The third is Susie Breier, currently the Women's Studies, Sociology, and Anthropology Librarian at Concordia University. While she may not remember who I am or realize the impact she had on me, I was quite fascinated by how someone could be so knowledgeable and have this constant attitude of wanting to share that knowledge with others.
IC: Is there anyone in Ingenium’s Women in STEM poster series that you find inspirational?
REH: I would have to highlight Anna Makosinski, not only for her brilliant inventions at such a young age but also for the altruistic reasons that factored into the creation of the revolutionary Hollow Flashlight. Beyond her biological identifiers as a young woman of Asian heritage, seeing such an individual strive and be celebrated for her success is an inspiration to me.
Having worked at the CSA, I also see Roberta Bondar as a source of inspiration. She is the first female Canadian astronaut and serves as an inspiration to many women in the space industry! The challenges she faced while striving for the same opportunities and dignity as men — in a predominantly male-dominated field — is what opened doors for many women like myself to realize that the space sector is accessible.
IC: Describe one of the challenges or biases you had to overcome on your professional journey.
REH: Self-doubt. I believe this is a common theme among many young professionals, but especially for me as a woman with East Asian heritage. I have struggled to convince myself that I am good enough, and fight the never-ending negative thoughts that I am “bothering others with “stupid questions” or that I am unable to provide the “perfect answer.”
As a consequence of imposter syndrome, I’ve missed opportunities because I felt that I was “not good enough” or “not ready for it.” At times, I’ve ended up staying at a position longer than I should, rather than recognizing my own talent and advancing towards my ambitions.
I have been fortunate to meet amazing people along my career path, who have helped me slowly overcome this. At the CSA, I connected with both the Visible Minority Network and Infinity (the Young Professional Network). These groups helped me develop a solution-oriented mindset, and to view my career as a lifelong, self-actualization adventure.
IC: Where do you hope to go from here?
REH: In the short term, I would like to garner more experience as a policy analyst in programs that have a direct impact in the everyday lives of Canadians, such as my current position with SIF. It’s amazing to see the impact at both the industry level and the microeconomic level — such as the number of jobs it helps create and maintain! However, I do have a very soft spot for statistics and data, so if I can be a bit more involved in data analytics, that would bring me to my ultimate happy place in terms of career.
Over the long term, I want to be in a position of leadership where I can serve the best interests of Canadians.
IC: It’s Asian Heritage Month, which is a time of celebration. What does that mean to you?
The history and cultures of the different societies that comprise what we define as “Asian” is actually more diverse than it is similar. However, even within the face of this diversity amongst us, and the diversity between Asians and the “others,” the fact that we can find ways to celebrate each other’s achievements and contributions is a milestone towards cultural diversity.
As an Information Specialist, I believe that knowledge is power. In light of that, let’s celebrate Asian Heritage Month with some fun facts!
• The Korean alphabet, Hangul, is thought to be the most simple, logical, ingenious, and scientific writing system in the world. Being a small peninsula between strong empires and kingdoms (now known as China and Japan), Korea’s kingdoms have suffered greatly throughout history. In 1443, King Sejong the Great wanted to create a language that his uneducated and impoverished people could learn so that they could use this as a weapon against injustice. Fascinating, is it not?
• For those who are a bit more adventurous and have a knack for sweets, you must try Songpyeon. It is a traditional Korean food made of rice filled with honey; it’s a treat usually eaten during festivals.