Astell Award

The Award: Dr. Caroline Astell

The Astell Award is to recognize trainees at all levels in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at UBC for outstanding commitment to activities related to promoting Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI).

The Astell Award was name after Dr. Caroline Astell one of the first women faculty in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at UBC.

Dr. Astell completed her undergraduate degree in Math/Zoology, Masters in Genetics and PhD in Biochemistry/Nucleic Acids all at UBC. After completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Rockefeller University in the USA, she worked at the University of Toronto as a Research Associate and then as an Assistant Professor at the University of Calgary. She then returned to UBC as a Research Associate and advanced through the ranks to Assistant, Associate and full Professor in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Dr. Astell’s research focused on understating the molecular biology of animal viruses and the structure and replication of eukaryotic chromosomes. She had both an impressive funding and publication track record, leading to over 62 published papers, numerous book chapters and patents and a co-authored book on Nobel Laureate Michael Smith. Dr. Astell was also a dedicated member of the department, leading many committees and the BC Genome Sciences Center. She was also an avid instructor in Biochemistry and directly mentored 11 graduate students and served on over 40 student supervisory committees during her career. Dr. Astell retired from UBC in 2004 and continues to serve her local community through volunteer and outreach activities.

2022 Recipients

Catalina Ionescu

Catalina Ionescu is a proud ally of underrepresented groups and is pleased to offer equitable and inclusive opportunities through her many outreach efforts. Catalina’s work at UBC with the First Aid Student Team helps to provide resources to students struggling with mental health and substance use disorder. As the president of the Biochemistry Student Association, Catalina has promoted an inclusive environment and equal representation of all students in STEM. In addition, Cataline’s work with Free Periods Canada and the UBC Peer Health Educators has promoted increased knowledge and destigmatization of menstrual and sexual health. Overall, Catalina is passionate about increasing inclusivity and diversity both within the Biochemistry community at UBC and in her greater community.





Morgan Towriss

Morgan is a proud Ts’msyen woman, scientist, and EDI advocate. As an indigenous woman in science, Morgan overcame many barriers to being an academic and is now a passionate advocate for increasing inclusivity and diversity in STEM. She loves working with younger indigenous students through tutoring and mentorship to help them navigate the barriers of academia while combining indigeneity and traditional cultural beliefs with scientific beliefs and research. Morgan is also a passionate advocate for mental health and disability inclusivity due to her own struggles with bipolar disorder. Through her work with the BMB EDI committee, she has promoted increased inclusivity and resources for people with mental or physical disabilities at UBC. Morgan hopes to continue working to increase active inclusion of diverse groups both within academia and general society.

2021 Recipients

Heather Baker
Heather is a third year PhD student in our graduate program and has championed a better representation and diversity in STEM for many years. When she was a Biochemistry undergraduate student at the University of Alberta, she mentored numerous students from equity deserving groups at elementary, high school, and university levels and organized several events, notably to celebrate women in STEM. At UBC, Heather continued to mentor inner city high school students and numerous undergraduate students, especially women coming from different backgrounds. Additionally, she designed and taught a new lecture on EDI in our BIOC551 course, worked on a new code of conduct at the Michael Smith Laboratories and joined the BMB EDI Committee to help shape our new action plan. As this was not enough, she also co-organized our first BMB-EDI event with a panel discussion on the Silent Genome Project. We would like to thank Heather for her hard work and contributions and congratulate her for receiving the 2021 Astell Award.


Saiqah Ghafoor

Saiqah is a fourth year undergraduate student in our Biochemistry program and has done ground breaking work for our community. Together with several other students she created during the pandemic the Biochemistry Student Association or BSA in which she is currently the co-President. Under her leadership, the BSA organized several events including the EDI in Biochemistry event last March. Together with other students, Saiqah joined our EDI departmental committee where she made sure that undergraduate students and their point of views were well represented. Notably, she help organized a focus group to help prepare our action plan. Saiqah is also active with the UBC Muslim Association that helps destigmatize islam. Outside UBC, Saiqah also volunteers in her community to promote women rights and participate to sporting events with handicapped athletes. We thank Saiqah for her engagement and efforts and congratulate her for the 2021 Astell Award.

2020 Recipients

Katie Gyre

Katie is an undergraduate in BMB and her main contribution to EDI is in promoting gender equality through her role as VP Events in the Women in Science club at UBC. As a team, the organization runs numerous events and a successful mentorship program with the aim of giving undergraduate women in science opportunities to connect with professionals in their field of interest, develop a strong community, and advance their career in STEM while they are completing their undergraduate degree. As a young woman in science, Katie identifies with this cause personally and is driven to create more opportunities for personal and professional growth for her fellow women. EDI as a whole is very important to her as she values equal opportunities for everyone and wants to promote a world without discrimination.









Laura Meleady

Laura was an undergraduate in BMB and is now continuing as an MSc in the department. Laura works to promote Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion through volunteering with local youth empowerment organizations such as Big Sisters and Girl Guides of Canada where she dedicates her time to mentoring youth, planning community service partnerships, and facilitating STEM workshops. Over the past 5 years Laura has dedicated hundreds of hours to visiting patients in local hospitals where she is trained specifically to work with patients suffering from mental illness and dementia. This work has taught Laura about disparities facing people with disabilities both visible and invisible that she hopes to continue advocating for both inside and outside of academia.