Meet Yanique Brandford: Physics Convert and Canada’s Hero

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Singularities - Profiles in Physics

Meet Yanique Brandford: Physics Convert and Canada’s Hero


Andrew M. Zeidell, Assistant Director of Sigma Pi Sigma

Yanique Brandford, a biomedical physics MSc student at Ryerson University, won the Viola Desmond Award and is the first-ever recipient of Canada’s Hero Award. Photo courtesy of Brandford.As a young girl in Jamaica, Yanique Brandford didn’t see college as an option—growing up in a low-income household and community, finishing high school was already a big milestone. She had never considered going to postsecondary school since the high costs made it difficult to access in Jamaica. It wasn’t until her family moved to Canada and school became more accessible that she was faced with the question of what to study.

Now a master’s student in biomedical physics at Ryerson University, Brandford initially avoided physics altogether. While many people in her family had careers in nursing, she decided to go another route. She researched many different pathways but was discouraged to find that they all required difficult math and physics courses. But when she came across the field of nuclear medicine, she quickly fell in love and decided to follow her interests, despite the heavy physics load to come.

Along her journey, Brandford also faced challenges related to growing up in a low-income household. A common challenge among women in her community, and across the world, is inconsistent access to feminine hygiene products. While still in high school, Brandford tackled this obstacle head-on by starting the Help a Girl Out project, which delivers feminine hygiene products to women in Canada and developing countries. These supplies are out of reach for many women, which can interrupt learning and life, and even cause women to miss class. It was this project, which she registered as a nonprofit in 2018, that won Brandford the Global Citizen Prize in 2020 and made her the first-ever recipient of Canada’s Hero Award.

Brandford has continued to work on Help a Girl Out throughout her time as a university student. While she considers this work to be separate from her interest in physics, it serves as a platform for Brandford to introduce young women to STEM fields. She’s a strong advocate for women in STEM and interacts with both volunteers and students through her workshops and messaging, where she also shares about her work in physics. She uses these interactions to talk about her research and how it relates to patient outcomes, and tells students that they, too, can make a mark on the world.

One of Brandford’s passions is to introduce more women of color to STEM fields, as they are historically underrepresented in physics and STEM in Canada and abroad. This advocacy earned her the Viola Desmond Award in 2020, for which she was nominated by the faculty of the Ryerson University physics department. These awards celebrate the past, present, and future of the Black community in Canada, and are given to Black women at Ryerson University who are positive role models and advocates of the Black and African Canadian community.

After completing her undergraduate studies in medical physics, Brandford realized that she had only scratched the surface in physics research and decided to go deeper. She is now finishing a biomedical physics master’s degree at Ryerson and plans to work in the nuclear industry.

Her advice to young women in STEM is this: “There is space for you, so don’t limit yourself. Regardless of your race, economic status, or disability, you can and should consider a scintillating career in science.” //

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Singularities - Profiles in Physics