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Behind the scenes with Claudia Gordijo

By Matthew Pariselli  •  Jul 4, 2019

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Liaising between Sunnybrook Research Institute’s scientists and external groups as a projects officer

Bio basics: Projects officer, strategic research programs, Sunnybrook Research Institute (SRI). Completed her PhD in chemistry at the University of São Paulo in Brazil and a postdoc in pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Toronto. Joined SRI in 2014. Born in Brazil and immigrated to Canada in 2006. Lives in Toronto with her husband and two children.

Why did you come to Canada?

To do my postdoc. I was doing basic pharmaceutical chemistry in Brazil. In Toronto, there’s big expertise in translational research in pharmaceutical sciences that was very aligned with what I wanted to do. During my PhD, I had a few labs and a few big names at U of T [that I wanted to work with] in mind.

What drew you to SRI?

I was looking for a job that would be science-related, but away from the lab. I saw this opportunity and thought, ‘OK, maybe this is a chance for me to bring my scientific background and apply it to something else—not at the bench, but still in the world of science.’

What does your role entail?

I oversee a broad portfolio of large federal and provincial grants, including research infrastructure that are key to ensuring research capacity at SRI. We are a small office offering research support services to SRI, so we deal with all major institutional awards, such as CFIs [Canada Foundation for Innovation (awards)]; ORFs [Ontario Research Fund (awards)]; and CRCs [Canada Research Chairs] from pre-, middle and post-award. Our office is an important interface between SRI scientists, the university and funding agencies. Recently, we also became responsible for the equity, diversity and inclusiveness (EDI) portfolio at SRI.

What is that?

The EDI portfolio is a requirement that came to all academic institutions in Canada in 2017 from the Canada Research Chairs Program. The program created an action plan to increase the number of chairs held by four designated groups: women, visible minorities, persons with disabilities and Indigenous peoples. They gave institutions with more than five chairs a deadline to come up with their own EDI action plan, increase transparency and establish EDI goals and institutional targets. This project came to our office because it’s considered strategic, and I was the one who took over it. We started from zero and worked with the university and the other hospitals to develop our own EDI content. We don’t have our own targets at Sunnybrook, because we are part of U of T, but we need to contribute to their targets. We also had to develop our own guidelines for the recruitment and nomination of chairs at SRI. The plan now is to expand the EDI portfolio to other programs at SRI. [Read more at Striving for fair representation.]

How do you feel about being part of this work?

I’m extremely proud. It’s very important. All institutions and funding agencies are starting to recognize and embrace EDI. Being part of it, being involved behind the scenes, writing all the guidelines, implementing [the plan] and seeing the results, I’m really happy about it. It’s very exciting. It’s making people pay attention to EDI issues. It’s not just a trend; it’s something we really need.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I’m constantly learning new things. Every project that comes to my desk is different. For each project, I need to do a lot background reading. One of the things I do is work with awards, so I need to write those nominations for scientists. To write them, I really need to understand what the scientists are doing and why their work is so important. That’s a big thing for me. I’m a trained scientist, so being able to keep learning and contributing somehow to science is very rewarding.

It’s mid-day on any given Saturday. Where are you and what are you doing?

I’m a very active person. It depends on the time of year, but if it’s summer and the weather is good, I want to be out of the house. I want to be at the beach with my kids or I want to be walking on Queen Street. I want to be doing something fun outside. I like to barbeque a lot in the backyard. In the winter we try to stay active. One of my favourite things to do is walk and go to a coffee shop.

What’s the last book you read?

Sapiens by Yuval Harari. It was a great book. I want to read his next one now, Homo Deus. I want to read Michelle Obama’s book, too.