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Each year on March 8th, women from around the world come together to celebrate their rights for equality. Today, we would like to celebrate the women in our network, and especially highlight the efforts of Dr. Joann Whalen. Dr. Whalen plays an important role both as an essential leader and researcher in the BioFuelNet network and as an inspiration to all female professionals.

Dr.Joann Whalen at the ABS 2014


1. Dr. Joann, can you name a woman who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader?

JW: “This would be my mother. She was a school Principal in the 1960s, before it was common for women to serve in this capacity. Seeing her command authority and respect in the teaching profession, in her other professional roles and in community organizations made me aware that a confident and prepared woman could accomplish whatever she decided to do. My mother is also very creative and can envision the end product of her activities before they are begun. I learned from her to be adaptable and keep an open mind, which is of great help in research and discovery because our vision is to develop processes or invent new ways of doing things that have not been done before.”

 2. You are now one of the 10 BFN project leaders, how did you come to be part of this network?

JW: “I submitted two projects to BioFuelNet’s original call for proposals. The one on ‘life cycle assessment of agricultural biomass feedstocks’ was accepted. At that time, my knowledge of the biofuels sector in Canada was limited mostly to bioethanol from agricultural residuals.  The last 2.5 years have been a tremendous learning experience and I have gained a much better appreciation for the diversity of feedstocks, transformation processes, vehicle engines, policy and economic considerations that surround Canadian biofuels. Industry, government and the not-for-profit sector all add their voices and perspectives to those from academia through BFN. It is a fantastic privilege for me and my students/postdocs to be part of BFN because our knowledge and opinions are tempered by the real-world applications, opportunities and constraints for growing the biofuel industry, as we move forward.”

 3. How do you encourage creative thinking within your project?

JW: “Creative solutions come from the cross-pollination of ideas that occurs within a multi-disciplinary network such as BFN. Not only does BFN bring together the leading scientists who can develop new tools and technologies for the biofuels industry, but it can fully consider the socio-economic relevance of those tools and technologies. Being able to interact regularly with other BFN scientists gives us new opportunities to make a “leap forward” rather than to proceed in a slower, stepwise fashion.”

 4. What are the main benefits of working in a network like BFN?

JW: “It is always interesting and dynamic, and the problems that BFN is addressing are extremely relevant to Canadians. Solutions range from individual to national scales. Individuals can look to BFN for the latest adapted engine technologies for the next generation of automobiles. Businesses and remote communities may be interested in mobile pyrolysis units for biomass to energy conversion. Nationally, there are questions about whether biojet fuel can reduce the carbon footprint of the Canadian military and Canadian airline industry. Tackling these types of questions allows BFN to be part of the national conversation on renewable fuels and boosts Canada’s profile at the international scale.”

 5. Some motivational words for the aspiring women leaders out there?

JW: “Aspiring women leaders – there are amazing opportunities ahead for you! Being a researcher in science and engineering is the best job in the world, but don’t hide in the lab – accept the invitations that you get to participate in bigger initiatives and research networks. If you are asked to take on a leadership role, do it – this is how you can make your voice heard, about what is important to you, and promote what you believe in.”





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