Explore everything you can. Don’t be afraid to re-evaluate your dreams.  It might take you somewhere even better.


Hi!   My name is Stephanie Hillier.


I’m a dentist working at Sydney Family Dental in Sydney, NS.  But I wasn’t one of those kids that always dreamed of being a dentist.  My love for science and Cape Breton Island ultimately lead me to choose dentistry.  Now I love my job too! I am thankful for it everyday.


So my best advice to students is this:  Explore everything you can. Don’t be afraid to re-evaluate your dreams.  It might take you somewhere even better.


My journey through science began at my kitchen table in 2002.  I was doing homework for my grade 9 science class.  Up until that point, the things I learned at school were mostly factual.  Whales are mammals. Jupiter is a gas planet. Our bodies have tiny cells. Solutes dissolve in solvents.  But on this particular evening, I learned about how the sky makes lightning and how photocopiers work – and that was my first experience with the joy of an “aha!” moment.  I still remember how it felt.  I learned not just what electrons are, but how they work.  I thought it was awesome that something so simple could explain incredible natural weather phenomena.  It was even better that we could use that knowledge to improve our experience in the universe.   That’s really what science is all about – asking questions, figuring out how to determine the answers, and using the answers to develop new things.


In high school I thought I would study biology in university; but my introductory biology course at Dalhousie was boring.  I was uninspired.  “Biology is just memorization”, I thought.  In second year I decided I would major in physics because it was more fun, haha.  But while I thoroughly enjoyed my first year physics class, I came to realize quantum physics wasn’t for me. Back to biology.  It was the best decision I have ever made.


That’s the thing about introductory courses. They are meant to establish a foundation upon which you will build the rest of your education.  It’s background information.  It’s okay to feel uninspired.  My introductory biology course didn’t delve deep into the fascinating details of life because it didn’t have time.  It did, however, provide a brief lesson in the general principles of biology.  Just like it was supposed to, haha.  Knowing and understanding those principles would serve me well down the road.


In third year I really came alive as a scientist.  “Biology” became just an umbrella term for other fascinating topics:  immunology, biochemistry, genetics, vertebrate design, transgenic organisms, neuroscience. I loved it. But I also loved astronomy. And math. Who knew learning could be so exciting?


I went on to complete an honours research project on bone development under the supervision of Dr. Tamara Franz-Odendaal; she is now the Atlantic Chair for Women in Science and Engineering (WISE).  The honours thesis delayed my graduation by one year, but I never once regretted that.  It was an incredible opportunity to explore the world of research and try to figure out my place in it.  Plus I got to work on a research project that no one had done before and contribute to the world’s knowledge! How cool is that?


Of course university isn’t ALL fun.  As I explored a diverse collection of studies, I had to figure out where this variety of interests would take me career-wise, and how that career could allow me to return to Cape Breton to build a life. This search lead me to dentistry.  As a dentist I spend my days surrounded by science – microbiology, mechanisms of disease, materials science, classical mechanics, computer technology, public health – and I like using it to help patients understand their oral health.  But there are a few other perks to being a dentist.  I have fun with the artistry in building smiles.  I enjoy meeting the people of my community.  Soon I will be proudly running a small business and employing local people.


In closing, I’d like to say that education is not just a means to employment.  You will build skills along the way that are valuable in the workforce, but education is as much about personal growth as it is about professional growth.  It’s about self-discovery and empowerment.  You will find joy in places you didn’t know would bring you joy.  You will learn about your personal values.  You will meet amazing people doing inspiring things who will help guide you on your path.  So act intentionally. Explore everything you can – so that one day, when you are ready, you can build a life that suits both your interests AND your needs.


That was my key to happiness.  Screen Shot 2018-03-08 at 7.38.06 PM


So here’s to the next 10 years and where engineering will take me


I’m a professional engineer and I’m currently teaching engineering at Cape Breton University. I always liked being creative and solving problems, and only by fluke did I come to learn that engineering would provide me the opportunity to pursue a career that allows me to do both.
Coming out of high school, I knew that I wanted to do something in the maths and sciences. Engineering appealed to me because I knew I could start working as soon as I graduated with degree. I did my first 2 years of school at Cape Breton University and finished my degree at Dalhousie University. Upon graduation, I moved across country to work in Fort McMurray.
When I started on the path to become an engineer, I totally did not understand what it means to be an engineer. It’s still very hard to explain to other people what an engineer does. The reason for this is because very few engineers do the exact same thing. And we continuously change roles. In the 9 years since I’ve graduated, I’ve had 7 completely different roles and job titles. I’ve lead investigation teams to look into high profile incidents which have cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars. I’ve climbed around the insides of multi-story distillation towers to perform inspections. I’ve run trials and troubleshooted chemical reactors. And now I’m helping bright young minds discover their potential. The long list of vastly different things that I’ve gotten to do because I’m an engineer makes me so happy that I’ve stumbled on this career path.
Being an engineer has also transferred over into my personal life. It has given me confidence to take on challenges. It has given me the skills to know how to approach any problem that arises in my life. If not for this confidence and these skills, I would never have taken a year off from work to sail around North America. My fiancé and I completed a 10 month long trip last year from Vancouver to Cape Breton (via the Panama Canal) on our sail boat, visiting 14 countries along the way. As an engineer, I had experience with planning big projects and mitigating risk, which is exactly the experience I needed to be able to safely navigate this undertaking.
If you would have told me 10 years ago, 5 years ago, or even 2 years ago the things that things that I would get to do, then I would have been shocked. Probably, I would not have believed you. So here’s to the next 10 years and where engineering will take me.

Staples Donates Ipad Mini Gold!

This is a photo of 3rd year Chemistry Student Kori Andrea 20150326_095233accepting a donation of an ipad mini gold from Staple Service Manager Leanne Candelora. Peggy Wright worked tirelessly with Leanne to get the donation for the 5th Annual Women in Science Event being held THIS Saturday March 27th in the Verschuren Center from 11-4:30. The days events include key note speaker from IBM – Sara Basson, making a mess with eggs, learning about IT, Nursing and Medical Physics and so much more. There is still time to register! http://www.cbu.ca/research/wise#.VRQDuPzF98E
The ipad mini gold will be given as a door prize, so everyone who registers and is present Saturday has a chance to win! Plus we have 100’s of more give aways!

I’ve never heard of medical physics” and “I hated physics in high school”


I am a medical physicist at the Nova Scotia Cancer Centre in Halifax, NS and have cross appointments as an assistant professor at Dalhousie University in the Department of Radiation Oncology and Department of Physics & Atmospheric Sciences.  When people hear this, I usually get one of two responses:

  1. “I’ve never heard of medical physics”


  1. “I hated physics in high school”

I’ll start by addressing the first comment since it’s probably something I would’ve said myself years ago. Medical physics is a branch of science that involves applications of physics to health care in ways like imaging processing and analysis, radiation protection, nuclear medicine applications and radiation therapy. Most medical physicists also hold academic appointments at universities which allow us to conduct research on novel treatment techniques and develop new technology.

I ended up in medical physics through of number of small steps that happened to be in the right direction. Like many people leaving high school, I put a lot of pressure on myself to decide on a university and program. I felt like I had to have the entire journey figured out.  Did I want to be a high school math teacher? Did I want to be an oncologist? Did I want to be a mechanical engineer? I researched careers, job shadowed, compared salaries and considered employment availability. Those thoughts made the decision at hand seem larger and more definite than it really was. What I did know was that I wanted to study science and that I wanted to stay in Nova Scotia for the next four years. And you know what? That was enough. That’s all I needed to decide. When it came down to it, that choice was pretty easy.

I approached each step towards the career I have today in much the same way. I majored in physics at StFX, but kept my doors open by taking as many math, chemistry and biology courses that I could fit in. Near the end of my four years at StFX, one of my professors told me about the field of medical physics. It seemed to combine my interests in math, physics and technology with real-world applications in health care. I loved the idea of working on projects that could be directly translated into changes in patient diagnosis and treatment for cancer.

I completed my Masters and PhD in Ottawa at Carleton University and then did a two-year Radiation Oncology Physics residency which provided hands-on clinical training. After working for a couple of years at The Ottawa Hospital, I returned to Halifax, Nova Scotia as a medical physicist at the QEII Health Sciences Centre. My day-to-day activities include things like responding to issues involving operation and maintenance of the radiation treatment machines, monitoring performance of equipment and treatment procedures, and working on research projects. We collaborate with radiation oncologists to decide on the best way to attack a patient’s tumour with radiation and ensure that they receive the prescribed dose to the correct location. Each day brings new challenges and there are always interesting projects to get involved with.

Another part of my job that I truly love is teaching. I get the opportunity to teach medical physics classes to radiation oncology residents as well as graduate students. Coming to the second of the two responses I often hear about physics, I think physics sometimes gets a bad rap. At first glance it can seem boring and difficult, although it’s anything but. I was very lucky to have a great high school physics teacher who ignited my interest in the field. As a teacher myself, I love finding new and innovative methods to present physics topics, especially in ways that can get people excited about it. There are so many ways to present the same concept that you might not understand it the first time you are taught something, or even the second, the third or the fourth, but eventually you may read something or hear someone describe a concept in a way that finally clicks.  I think for this reason it’s important not to write off any subjects or fields of study too quickly. Keeping doors open and taking it one step at a time is the best way to end up finding a career you love. Even if it’s one you never knew existed!


Amanda Cherpak, PhD