Dr. Nelly Auersperg. Great Trekker for 2022
By Karen Chen. Photos courtesy UBC Archives.
Congratulations to Dr. Nelly Auersperg, the recipient of the 2022 Great Trekker Award. She worked as a professor in the Faculty of Science at the University of British Columbia, then in the Faculty of Medicine. Her career resulted in over 200 peer-reviewed journal articles, and near the end of her research, she focused particularly on ovarian cancer.
Today, we have the honor of getting Dr. Auersperg’s advice on careers after graduation, dealing with rejection, and her encouragement for students.
Q: Congratulations on winning the award! What does this award mean to you?
A: It made me very happy, it indicated that I had done something worthwhile scientifically.
Backstory: Initially, I applied to to every medical school I discovered in Canada and the USA., and did not get accepted by any schools, including UBC. I did my MD at the University of Washington, then a Ph.D. in biology at UBC. I stayed here afterward for research and medical opportunities.
Q: What is your biggest piece of advice for graduating students?
A: I have two pieces of advice:
- Choose a career that is worthwhile and fulfilling. Not just to make money, as a chore, or just for fun, but as something that you genuinely look forward to going to.
- On top of enjoying your job, choose a career that is useful and contributes to the greater good of society! It could be anything – being a sportsperson, a housewife, or a scientist – anything that will make a better world.
Q: What is the biggest lesson you have learned from being a professor at UBC?
A: One surprising lesson I learned, particularly from my graduate students, was how often they were smarter than the instructor. Even when students were not particularly interested or good at what we were doing, I found the best way to deal with them was to leave them alone because they had their own ideas which were often as good or better than their instructor’s.
Q: Nowadays, many fields in science and engineering are still male-dominated. What are some insights or encouragement you have for women hoping to find success in these fields?
A: Don’t lose hope, there has been much progress, and a lot has changed already. When I was in medical school, we were 105 students and 5 of us were women. To this day, I respond to when someone says “you guys”, because everything was always “you guys” and never “you gals”. It improved a lot; back then, the UBC salary for women was substantially lower than salaries for men. The excuse was that women have husbands who can provide for them.
Another example of discrimination was in the emergency department in the Vancouver General Hospital, there were two toilets – labeled “women” and “doctors”. I could go into both!
Things have changed a lot, so do not lose hope, times are progressive, and do not let circumstances discourage you from working towards a goal!
Q: What is your best advice in dealing with rejection and overcoming adversity?
A: First of all, rejection and adversity are two different things.
- Rejection: Oftentimes, it is when someone does not care for you or doesn’t want to be with you, which is always upsetting. However, you can use this as a tool for self-examination – ask yourself, am I being rejected for something I have done? If it is your problem, it is up to you to do something about it. If not, just move on.
- Adversity: Something external, out of your control – climate change, earthquakes, unexpected accidents, health problems in the family – it is not something you can blame yourself for.
When something happens, figure out what you are facing, and deal with it accordingly.
Thank you so much to Dr. Nelly Auersperg for taking the time out of her day to chat and share her wisdom on these topics. Congratulations again on winning the Great Trekker Award!
The Great Trekker Award is an honor presented to an alumnus of UBC who embodies the incredible student initiative showed in 1922, when they marched to Point Grey to pressure the government to complete the construction of the university. 2022 marks the 100th anniversary of Great Trek and the vitality, bravery, and continued leadership shown by students.