Professor Cynthia Goh balances many responsibilities. She is a professor in the Department of Chemistry, the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, the Institute of Medical Science, and the Munk School of Global Affairs.
She is the director and founder of the Impact Centre, which strives to bring “science to society” through entrepreneurship, and also the academic director of University of Toronto Entrepreneurship.
Goh describes herself as “a STEM student through and through.” Explaining her interest in STEM, she says, “I think if you know the rules that govern the world you can make a better world.”
Goh’s research interests lie in nanoscience — specifically, the properties, structures, conformations, and interactions of molecules such as polymers and biomolecules, and how these molecules can be used to improve areas such as health care and disease treatment.
After receiving tenure, she shifted her focus to entrepreneurship. “I was making impact in my discipline, I would write a paper and people would quote it and write papers about it. But, I really wanted to see how to make a difference in people’s lives and I learned, basically, that’s about bringing this nice research result to creating a product that somebody can use.” This is how the Impact Centre was created.
The Impact Centre was recognized by the university in 2013, but it has been in operation for years prior to that. Goh describes the centre’s mission as striving to connect the research being done in institutions to a service or a product to create positive impact.
In its beginning stages, Goh had designed an extracurricular entrepreneurial skills training program for students who believed that the skills would be of value to them.
But according to Goh, there was a disconnect between research and application. The change in direction was a challenge. However, Goh views challenges as opportunities to overcome obstacles and forge paths to new areas.
In fact, when Goh began working at U of T, she was the only woman in the Department of Chemistry, and this continued for eight years.
“When I had my kid, nobody knew what the maternity leave rules were because nobody has asked for maternity leave before me,” says Goh. She recounts that she would carry her child at work and would, at times, receive strange looks.
But instead of “carrying a chip on [her] shoulder,” she explains, “I’ve always had the attitude that if people maybe may sound like they’re not on your side, it’s probably because they just don’t have the experience.”
From the small sample of children Goh has worked with, she says that despite the generalization that boys seem to have more outward confidence than girls, “confidence comes from having done your homework.”
The nature of STEM subjects, she says, allows for checking if an answer is correct. “In math, you can tell what the correct answer is, so I can build a lot of confidence knowing I’m right.”