Dr. Magdalena Bazalova-Carter

UVic Women in Science presents an interview series highlighting women in the scientific community on Vancouver Island. Dr. Magdalena Bazalova-Carter is an assistant professor in Medical Physics at the University of Victoria and is currently researching x-ray methods for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Magdalena balances academia, leadership, starting a family, and a love of the outdoors while supporting the success of young women entering Physics fields. 

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What is your field of study and what stage of your education/career are you at? I’m an assistant professor in Medical Physics, and I am also a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair.

When did you first become excited about science? I first became interested in science back in elementary school. I also had an outstanding math and physics teacher in high school who really inspired me to go into physics.

How did you get to the position you are in today? Was it a straightforward career trajectory? I had a very straightforward career trajectory. I got my BSc from the Czech Technical University in 2003, then I completed my PhD at McGill University. I went into my postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University, where I eventually became an instructor. I moved to Victoria in 2015 to accept a job as an assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at UVic!

Describe your research focus. My research focus is primarily the diagnosis and treatment of cancer with x-rays.

What do you enjoy about this field/your work? How did you get so involved in what is typically a male dominated area of research (physics)? From very early on, I always liked physics and I decided to pursue a career in it. I worked hard but was also lucky to land a faculty position at UVic. I enjoy the fact that my work has the potential to help people overcome a deadly disease as well as the fact that it incorporates my love of physics.

Sometimes male physicists gave me a hard time at conferences or meeting and I thought that I had to prove myself as well as my knowledge of physics to them.

What have been the obstacles for you during your career? Do you believe any on these were specific to being a female? One of my biggest obstacles was the hard course work I had to do in college. Sometimes male physicists gave me a hard time at conferences or meeting and I thought that I had to prove myself as well as my knowledge of physics to them. I felt like I received this treatment because I am a woman.

What do you think about mentorship? Have you had any strong mentors during your career? And do you think it’s an important component of professional development? Mentorship was a very important part of my training. I did have a strong mentor during my postdoc and I still see him as my role model. I had a female math and physics teacher in high school whom I still admire, and it is partially thanks to her that I am in physics now. She was extremely supportive of my alternative solutions to the math problems we solved in class.

I had a female math and physics teacher in high school whom I still admire, and it is partially thanks to her that I am in physics now.

How do you balance your hectic work schedule with your life? I work hard and play hard! Some of my hobbies include hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, ice climbing (are you sensing a trend here?), and swimming.

I would like young scientists to know that it never feels like there is the best time to have a baby, but any time is the best!

What has been most challenging about having a demanding career and a family? What would you like young scientists to know about this? I just had my first baby. I find it challenging to attend to my students and take care of the baby, but I am still on maternity leave. I would like young scientists to know that it never feels like there is the best time to have a baby, but any time is the best!

What has been your greatest accomplishment in your career? My greatest accomplishments from my career would have to be winning the 2007 Sylvia Fedoruk Prize (best Canadian paper in Medical Physics) and becoming a Canada Research Chair.

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What are you still hoping to accomplish? I hope to provide good supervision to my students so that they all have a great start to successful careers after they leave my lab.

I would love to see more mentorship programs implemented, as well as more gatherings of females in science.

What programs/events would you see as being most useful for women in science here at UVic? I would love to see more mentorship programs implemented, as well as more gatherings of females in science. In the physics department, we have an annual event for women in the department, which I think is really great.

What advice would you give to students and young females interested in science? Enjoy working among so many men!

Karen Lithgow