Janet Werker

Pursuing Those Unsolved Mysteries

In another life, this psychology professor might be a detective or a spy – anything that lets her dig into and unravel a new puzzle.


Janet F. Werker is a Professor and Canada Research Chair in Psychology at the University of British Columbia. We asked her everything from what she likes most about being a scientist to what she does for fun in hopes of giving you a better understanding of what goes on outside the lab for one of the best minds in Canadian research.

What do you like most about being a scientist?
There are so many things I love about being a scientist – it’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was a child. If I had to pick one part of it, I’d say it’s figuring out how best to address new mysteries, i.e. how to translate a theoretical question into an empirical study, and that is the most fun of all when it’s done collaboratively with my students and/or colleagues.

What advice would you give young researchers?
I would advise young researchers to do what my Dad always advised me to do – “Keep your feet on the ground and reach for the stars”. You have to follow your passions – otherwise, why choose to be a researcher? But you also need to ensure that you tend to what needs to be tended, to successfully stay on the route to having a career as a scientist.

What are you reading right now? 
Right now I’m reading The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng. It is a beautifully written novel set in Malaya in the years following World War II.

What do you like to do for fun? 
Spending time with my three young grandchildren is my favourite way to have fun these days. We’re lucky to have all of them living in Vancouver, so I get to see them a lot.

If you could do any profession other than your own what would it be?
I’ve always said that the profession I would choose had I not chosen research, would be being a detective or a spy. I love intellectually piecing puzzles together – particularly when it’s a challenge to even figure out what the pieces are.

Aside from things for your survival, what item would you most want to have with you on a deserted island? 
That is a really difficult question as it specifies a non-animate object rather than a person! I guess it would have to be either a rich enough book that I could read it over and over while always experiencing something new, pencil and paper (is that two items?), or a musical instrument. Definitely not a computer – even though it could serve all of those needs.