Newfoundlander Melanie Noel recently landed a well-deserved spot on Avenue’s 2017 Top 40 Under 40 list. Noel is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Calgary, a full member of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, and the mother of triplets.
After completing an undergraduate degree at Memorial University under the mentorship of Dr. Carole Peterson, Noel left Newfoundland to continue her studies. By the time she finished her Graduate Degree at Dalhousie University in Halifax, she was already receiving international recognition for her research on treating child pain.
She went on to do a PhD in Clinical Psychology at Dalhousie, then earned a post-doctoral fellowship from the University of Washington School of Medicine and Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Noel has published 56 papers that are cited among key publications on childhood pain. She has won the Canadian Pain Society Early Career Award, is currently part of a $25-million initiative called The Chronic Pain Network. She has even helped develop guidelines for pain reduction during vaccinations that have been adopted by the World Health Organization.
Although she left the island a decade ago, Noel says growing up in Newfoundland and studying under Dr. Peterson at MUN had a huge impact on her life’s trajectory.
“My upbringing and my identity as a Newfoundlander has influenced my choices and my resilience in challenging times,” Noel said. “It really shaped my path and it continues to be a big part of who I am both personally and professionally.”
Noel went on to say that without the guidance and encouragement she received from Dr. Peterson she never would have pursued a graduate degree.
“Carole Peterson opened my eyes to the world of child psychology,” Noel said. “She’s a fabulous mentor who’s always promoting the freedom and thrill of academia as a flexible job that involves scientific discovery, but also as a path that could be really conducive to having a family.”
Dr. Peterson was the first of a series of mentors who Noel credits with showing her that it is possible to be a successful woman academic and have a fulfilling life outside of the university. Noel says that women and especially young mothers face a number of systemic barriers that make it difficult to succeed in academia.
She learned she was pregnant with triplets just as she was preparing to begin her post-doctorate work in Seattle. At that time, having the mentorship of Dr. Tonya Palermo, a powerful and super smart woman who also happens to be a mother, was crucial for her.
“When I learned I was having triplets it really shook everything. When you have children, the transition can kind of shatter your professional confidence,” Noel said. “Having Tonya believe in me was so important, I had some pretty amazing women along the way who saw the star in me.”
Noel says the thing she loves the most about her job as an assistant professor is having the opportunity to be a teacher and role model to other young women. She prides herself on having honest conversations with her students about how challenging and rewarding it can be to be both the mother of three young children and an accomplished academic.
“The biggest thrill for me is showing my female mentees that it is possible to be not just a woman in science, but to be a mother to many children in science,” Noel said. “I really believe we’re starting to re-write the narrative; if you look at that Top 40 list alone, most of the people in academia who made that list are women.”