Dr. Tamara Franz-Odendaal in a science lab with the text "Challenge who belongs in a lab" beside herHas dedicated her professional life to empowering and encouraging girls and women to carve their own paths in the traditionally male-dominated fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM).


  • Cape Town, South Africa

Currently Living In

  • Bedford

MSVU Connections

  • Professor of Biology and NSERC Atlantic Chair for Women in Science and Engineering from 2011 to 2023

Dr. Franz-Odendaal’s MSVU experience

  • Dr. Franz-Odendaal joined MSVU in 2006 and was promoted to Full Professor in 2015.
  • She is the recipient of numerous awards including the MSVU Research Excellence Award (2015) and the MSVU Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Award (2020).

Standout Achievements

  • Dr. Franz-Odendaal is described by peers as “one of the top researchers in Canada and internationally in the field of Evolutionary Developmental Biology, including Space biology,” and with a research program that is “exemplary” and “widely recognized for its innovation.” She has collaborated with researchers across Canada, as well as in Belgium, Germany, and the United States.
  • In 2020, she was named a Fellow of the American Association for Anatomy – an honour bestowed on the top 10% of all eligible members in recognition of excellence in science and for contributions to the anatomical sciences.

Access & Impact

  • Dr. Franz-Odendaal spent an exceptional 12 years as NSERC Atlantic Chair for Women in Science and Engineering. In this role, she served as a strong advocate for women in STEM and led a program that empowered girls to explore STEM-based opportunities, including hands-on girls-only science retreats and summer camps, and provided professional development opportunities for women working in STEM in Atlantic Canada.
  • As a co-founder and Lead Ally of the Canadian Black Scientists Network, she conducts critical research on the experiences of Black trainees in STEM in Canada, while her previous work has also explored the experiences of LGBTQ+ post-docs in Science.
  • She was also the recipient of the 2022 Professional of Distinction Award at the annual Discovery Awards for “outstanding innovators whose game changing achievements in science and technology put Nova Scotia at the forefront of global innovation.”

Where Is She Now?

  • With her team in the Bone Development Lab at MSVU, and the support of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Research Nova Scotia and the Canadian Space Agency, Dr.
  • Franz-Odendaal studies bone development across species, particularly the gene expression pathways that underlie the development of the skeleton.
  • They study the genes that are responsible for bone and cartilage development by looking at the embryos of different animals.
  • “That provides us a lot of insight into how the human skeleton forms because a lot of human disorders recapitulate the developmental pathways that we see during embryonic development,” said Dr. Franz-Odendaal. “If we really get a deep understanding of what happens in the embryo, it will help us understand the disorders and diseases that humans face related to the skeleton.”

What’s Next?

  • With support from the Lung Association of Nova Scotia and Research Nova Scotia, Dr. Franz-Odendaal is studying tracheal development and signaling molecules, and their function in relation to lung disease.
  • She is also the recipient of a grant from the Canadian Space Agency to study the mechanisms underlying microgravity-induced bone loss toward developing an effective prevention strategy to avoid bone loss in astronauts.
  • Another research interest of Dr. Franz-Odendaal’s is equity and inclusion practices in science fields.

Call to Action

  • Dr. Franz-Odendaal’s work and personal impact is a testament to the impact of creating a supportive community and the fact that gender should never be a barrier to pursuing excellence in any field.
  • The WISEatlantic (Women in Science and Engineering Atlantic) initiative she led for many years is proof of this, with programming through the organization:
    • Engaging over 26,000 youth, teachers, parents and professional women in STEM
    • Working with over 50 organizations in the Atlantic region
    • Supporting over 10,000 students in STEM activities
    • Sponsoring 22 professional workshops for women in STEM
    • Enabling over 2,700 girls to interact directly with over 500 professional women in STEM
  • Dr. Franz-Odendaal’s achievements show that great things can happen when people receive support and encouragement.