Senior Scientist and Chief of Research, The Hospital for Sick Children
WHAT SETS HER APART
Janet heads the Sick Kids Research Institute with a staff of 2,000; she manages a research budget of $160 million a year
Total number of publications: 354
Total number of degrees: 4, including a PhD from Cambridge and an MA from Oxford
Mary Jo Haddad, President and CEO, The Hospital for Sick Children
From Mary Jo Haddad
As told to Kate Daley
Oftentimes when we think of leaders, we think of huge personalities or huge egos—Janet’s not either of those. But she wows you in ways that you can’t imagine. I appointed Janet in 2004 as Chief of Research at Sick Kids after a large international search. I wanted to have someone on my team as a partner to lead the vision we had for research at the hospital and to help me build a child health research facility for the future. She came into our first meeting with eyes wide open. She had lots of questions. She interviewed me on my vision, and what I was trying to accomplish, to see if her values aligned with me, as a leader, and with the organization as a whole.
She’s a biologist in her own right. Her work and the achievements and discoveries she’s had, most recently in stem cell research, have really put her at the top of her game. [She is President of the International Society for Stem Cell Research.] Janet discovered the stem cells that form the placenta and she has been able to generate lung cells from stem cells.
Twenty years ago, Sick Kids discovered the first cystic fibrosis gene. It’s not an area that Janet works in, but she reached out to the two scientists to bring her research on stem cells to the disease. She used her discoveries and worked with the Cystic Fibrosis Centre to generate lung cells from CF patient stem cells, which were used to test new drugs for treating CF. This has the potential to allow us to design personalized treatments for different CF patient populations.
Science is often seen as competitive, so this is a great story of creativity, vision and collaboration. She’s a tremendous role model for the kind of culture we want to build at Sick Kids.
There’s no question that she’s my partner expert in the field of science and research. When I talk about her brilliance, it’s not just brilliance in the way her brain works for science, but it’s in knowing who she is talking to.
She is probably one of the best spokespeople for laypeople to understand the world of science and discover the application to every day living. When she’s talking to myboard, she can galvanize them around a vision and help them understand where that vision is going to take us when it comes to the most complex research. Janet can translate all the things that have made her successful in the world of science into a boardroom, into a classroom, into a public policy forum and into a cocktail party. She’s incredibly sought after to sit on scientific advisory boards for prestigious research institutes worldwide and is so generous with her time. In a week she can be in the U.K. and Sweden, then back to Toronto and then off to China and all while maintaining her connectivity to the management details of what’s going on at the hospital.
For women who either aspire to great things in science or who look to find role models they can emulate, Janet is one of those people.
It’s never about Janet. When I’m talking with other people about something great she’s done, Janet finds a way to turn it to someone else. She’ll use examples of the great up-and-comer scientist to celebrate those people, introduce them and give them more opportunities.
One project that we’ve been working on—the creation of The Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning—has been a huge undertaking. I challenged her to see the future of science and asked her how we make this a wonderful environment that’s going to inspire the people who work here. For someone to put their heart and soul into a facility, while leading their own major research lab, while being invited all over the world, while sitting on the senior management team as an executive member, while sitting on major scientific panels, while participating in major provincial scientific strategy—to have that all in one person is pretty profound.