Community Spotlight: Paula Littlejohn

This International Women’s Day 2021, we decided to connect with inspiring women championing inclusion at UBC to hear their reflections on this day and perspectives on a more equitable and inclusive future.

PhD Candidate | Finlay Lab
Microbiology & Immunology


What does IWD mean to you?

IWD is a day to celebrate and amplify the voices and successes of women worldwide.


Did you struggle at all to find a community here at UBC?

Representation matters.

“to be simultaneously intellectually invisible and physically visible is the unceasing plight of the Black woman in STEM”–Paula Littlejohn

Not seeing Black Female Professors or Black females in Senior Leadership has been a struggle for me. While I feel very well supported at UBC, there is something to seeing someone who looks like you especially when it comes to seeing what is also possible to achieve and to get wisdom for the road ahead. It’s also essential to have such persons when dealing with issues related to race and gender.


Have you taken any initiatives to help come up with a solution to the above problem?

I am part of a planning committee at UBC to help organize a speaker series that addresses the underrepresentation of Blacks in the academy on various levels. I am also the co-founder of a newly formed non-profit focused on bridging the gap between high school and university for underrepresented youths in STEM. I am also an active participant in the “Black in X” movement that was amplified the summer of 2020.


How can we ensure greater gender equality within a university setting?

I think we have to always be moving forward—the better days (of racial and gender equality) are still ahead. Look for ways you can be a bridge and not a roadblock. Finally, emancipate yourself from the notion that “there’s not enough seats at the table”, and instead re-imagine those seats. What could those seats really look like if more people were involved in creating them.


What is your one self- care tip?

Prayer is crucial to my life. I’ve also been learning how to pivot which has helped me find my community. Because I couldn’t find the community I was looking for, I determined two things, first, to be a part of the change I desired to see, hence the Speaker Series mentioned above. Secondly, redefine spaces of “community.” They exist somewhere, you just have to find them. My virtual community of scientists who look like me has been one of the best parts of 2020 and 2021. They taught me to embrace that my p-(Paula) value is < 0.05.


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