Success in STEM

Dr. Kathryn Woodcock

Photo of Dr. Kathryn Woodcock

Dr. Kathryn Woodcock is an associate professor at Toronto’s Ryerson University, teaching, researching, and consulting in the area of human factors and ergonomics. Her research interests include the application of human factors to occupational and public safety issues of performance, error, investigation and inspection, and to disability and accessibility.

She also heads the THRILL lab, researching and developing applications of human factors/ ergonomics to amusement ride safety (, as well as supervising graduate students in the Mechanical Engineering Graduate Program (MEGP).

Before joining Ryerson, she managed a research and policy unit in the Prevention Division of the Workplace Safety & Insurance Board of Ontario. Through the 1980s, she was a hospital vice-president and active in the Ontario health care sector. Kathryn previously taught graduate and undergraduate courses in industrial engineering and ergonomics at Rochester Institute of Technology (New York) and the University of Waterloo, and is an adjunct scientist of the Institute for Work and Health.

Kathryn is a registered Professional Engineer and Canadian Certified Professional Ergonomist with degrees from University of Waterloo and University of Toronto, a member of national and international professional societies in ergonomics, and has presented many papers in the field. She is also active in the community, as a member of the Consumer Advisory Council and Amusement Devices Advisory Council of the Technical Standards and Safety Authority, and Deaf Women in Science and Engineering. She served the Ontario Minister of Community and Social Services to the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council, challenged to implement the Access to Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2005) from 2005 to 2009.

Kathryn never had any career plans outside of the sciences, and describes her inclination in that direction as a “default setting.” Throughout her education in engineering, she experienced more negativity and barriers of attitude due to her being a woman, rather than due to her deafness. It is only by persevering and holding herself up to the highest standards that she was able to make it through her program just like any other engineering student.

Now that she is a professor and researcher, Kathryn still has difficulties finding funding for paid interpreters, which many people seem to not grasp the need for. Also, the inconvenience of needing to use students as go-betweens for ordering lab supplies and other administrative tasks is frustrating, but not nearly enough to force her to call it quits.

To students pursuing a career in the sciences, Kathryn has the following advice. “Do it. There will be those who try to protect you from disappointment and the certain failure that will happen when someone tries something hard. Accept that the harder the challenge, the more likely you will experience failure. Failure is educational. It teaches us that next time, we should work harder, or try a different strategy. If you never fail, you are not challenging yourself enough, but at the same time, it’s not ‘okay’ to fail. Failure is like spending money. If you fail, you better be getting good learning value to make the investment worthwhile.”

She follows this up by saying that when it comes to advocacy, it is important to remind those you interact with of your needs. Don’t let their assumptions interfere with your education or goals. Also, don’t be afraid to circumvent barriers rather than tear them down completely. Advocacy is extremely important, but sometimes we need to make time for other things like building a career.