From a school science fair to a career in STEM, Siobhan Dooley comes by her nerdiness naturally

Siobhan Dooley's childhood love of The Magic School Bus and Bill Nye The Science Guy led her to a career in STEM.
Left to right: Niamh, Yvette, Siobhan, Joe and Roisin Dooley at Siobhan's graduation from Queen's University. (Provided)

Originally published November 12, 2017

When she was five years old, Siobhan Dooley demanded to enter her elementary school's science fair, so they created a Kindergarten category just for her.

"I got a pop bottle, some Plasticine, some straws and rubber bands to simulate the lungs and the diaphragm. I had the judges blow into the balloons with the straw and showed then when air goes in diaphragm expands, air goes out diaphragm contracts," she recalled.

"I came first ... out of one," she laughed. "But you know, a win's a win."

Math and science have always come easy to Dooley. Her dad is a doctor, her mom has a science background and they encouraged her lifelong love of math and science.

Growing up the Dooley girls watched educational TV shows like The Magic School Bus, Bill Nye and Popular Mechanics for Kids. (From left: Catriona, Roisin, Siobhan with baby Niamh.) (Provided)

"Growing up we always watched science-based TV shows like The Magic School Bus, Bill Nye and Popular Mechanics for Kids. I know every single episode of The Magic School Bus."

Love of STEM subjects

Dooley's love for all things science, technology, engineering and math carried on through her childhood and teen years, right into adulthood.

"Even into high school, my last two years I did English during the summer to kind of get it out of the way just so I could have my last two years all math and sciences."

She went on to study chemical engineering at Queen's University, a field that at the time did not attract many Indigenous students.

"I didn't see any other Indigenous people within my classes," she said. "There might have been other Indigenous students studying engineering at the same time as me but I didn't see them."

From left: Roisin, Catriona, Siobhan with their great grandparents.

She said it was difficult coming from a small northern Ontario town to a very large school where the Indigenous population was not very high. It wasn't until her last year of study that she stumbled upon a sign for the Aboriginal Access to Engineering Program.

"I went in and inquired about it and started getting involved, met some first years coming in. It was really neat that I was finally getting to meet other Indigenous engineering students and also I got to meet other Indigenous engineers through networking."

'They only hired you because you're Native'

But it was an incident with a fellow non-Indigenous student that drove her to do more. When she graduated, Dooley got a job with an engineering firm and was talking about it with classmates.

"I still remember this so vividly," she recalled. "This girl from my class was asking me, 'Where are you going to be working?' and I told her and she was like, 'Oh, well they only hired you because you're Native.'"

She said the incident shocked her and made her doubt herself. Even five years later, it's still with her. But now that she is more established, Dooley reaches out to incoming students as a mentor.

"You shouldn't have to choose between celebrating your Indigenous heritage and culture and being a good engineer."