Meet Saskia Sivananthan, a determined scientist and leader helping to craft Canadian policies on dementia

Dr. Saskia Sivananthan is Chief Science and Knowledge Translation Officer at the Alzheimer Society of Canada, overseeing the Alzheimer Society Research Program, a dementia research priority setting leader.  She is a neuroscientist and health data scientist who has focused her work on dementia care. 

In 2020, she was appointed by the Federal Minister of Health to the ministerial advisory board on dementia. Previously, Dr. Sivananthan served as a senior strategy and policy advisor consulting for the World Health Organization (WHO) on its global dementia strategy. She co-drafted the WHO’s Global Action Plan on the Public Health Response to Dementia.

What do you love most about your job? 

I consider myself extraordinarily blessed. On a micro-level, I get to help people every day and see the direct impact on their lives. On a macro-level, I orchestrate creative and operations, designing and delivering broad programs of research and education that can change the course of entire populations. The best part is that I get to do this in an area I have been passionate about for 20 years.

EDITOR’S NOTE: What could a day at a job like that mean? Well…that you have to be ready for an exciting variety of things. Here’s an example! For the Alzheimer Society of Canada, Saskia interviewed actor Viggo Mortenson about portraying dementia in his movie “Falling”.

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What advice would you give to women forging their career paths in the same field you are in?

When I started my PhD, I told my supervisor from the get-go I had no intention of taking an academic path. I wanted the tools to apply and integrate into the health system. I did everything from cold calling, setting up meeting rooms, and bringing coffee to being the note-taker at meetings because they were all learning opportunities. 

In a sense, I’m the chief product and design officer in a field that is quite traditional in its approach.  I had to write my own script and evolve this role. I didn’t let convention dictate my approach or direction. (EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a great tip!)

But there is no one path.

In every position I’ve held, I’ve rewritten and evolved the role for myself by identifying an organizational need and bringing solutions to the table.

Dr. Saskia Sivananthan

Taking risks is a big part of learning and growing. You need to constantly push at the edges of your comfort zone. I never got comfortable with resting or biding my time. In every position I’ve held, I’ve rewritten and evolved the role for myself by identifying an organizational need and bringing solutions to the table.

What is a life skill that has helped you succeed in your field? 

“Lean in” doesn’t resonate with me. Betting on yourself does. Every single time.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Michelle Obama once made headlines for saying the “Lean In” philosophy didn’t work for her. Watch it here.

What is one life hack you use every day to succeed? 

“Hustle for solutions”: I have that tacked on a post-it note in front of my computer screen. I’ve got one life, I had better love what I do and the people in it.

So there is never a mediocre approach to what I do. I hustle in my relationships, I hustle at work, I hustle period.

Where can people find you online?

I’m on LinkedIn

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Alzheimer Society of Canada has an incredible list of resources for navigating dementia. Click on the one below to take a look, pass it on to anyone who needs support.

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