1. What does your everyday work entail?
My everyday work is mostly planning and running experiments. Analysis of data and currently taking courses for scientific coding. I also do teaching and marking, which is part of the PhD program. There are no proper weekends as a full-time PhD student and almost every spare minute goes into reading/ writing.
2. What career path led you to your current work?
I am lucky to say that my career path was pretty much straightforward. I’ve always wanted to pursue a PhD, but I took a break after my Masters in 2011, to focus on having a family. I knew if I pursued a PhD, then I would become a workaholic and I didn’t want to be one. To me, work is not life. While I got married and had two babies, I stayed in touch with the STEM field by working as a Research Associate in the Cell Biology Department, which was a full time job. This set the grounds to obtain professional and technical skills that made me confident to study for a PhD. The job was amazing; especially with my boss (a mom herself) being so supportive throughout my pregnancy and breastfeeding phases.
However, whilst in Saudi Arabia and my personal life was a bit tough. My husband was in another province, 400km away. It was very difficult to manage kids alone (then 3 and 4yrs), a full time job and a country where women were not even allowed to drive. Upon receiving our Canadian Permanent Residence, I decided that it was time to pursue the PhD.
3. How did you decide to move into this career path?-was it a certain person or moment which initiated it all?
My parents were employees in a hospital. They would take me to research labs, so I was fascinated with science.
4. Was there ever a time that you recall wanting to change paths & what convinced you to continue on your chosen path?
Yes, I’ve always wondered this. In these fleeting moments, I always ask myself: What will I pursue then? Is there something else I would like to pursue? Is there something else that I am just as passionate about?
The answer always comes back as ‘no’. I don’t think there is anything else that would keep me going.
Science is what I thrive in and thrive for.
5. Give us a brief description of a normal/extraordinary 24hours in your life. (You can choose one 😋)
6:00am - Get up and get myself ready FIRST (quiet peaceful time :D)
6:30am - Wake up kids and get them ready.
7:15am - Leave home and drop kids off at school
7:55am - Catch the bus to university
8:30-4:25pm - Plan work and experiments
4:35pm - Catch the bus back home
5:30 – 7:00pm - Kids time (bath, story, talking and cuddling)
7:00 - 8:00pm - Plan the next day. [Pack kids bags the night before]
8:00-8:20pm - Exercise
8:20-9:30pm - Kids in bed and my night nap time. Yes’ nap’ time
9:30-1:00am – Reading/PhD works
1:00am - Sleep
Fridays I don’t follow a strict schedule.
Cooking, Grocery and Laundry: All done on weekend.
6. Name the one thing which excites you about your field of work.
The one thing that excites me about my field?? - There are MANY… ha, ha!. The vast horizon of knowledge and adding credible work to the field is exciting. The more I read about my work, the more amazing it is. Even more, there is a fear/ excitement in knowing that I can contribute to the field.
And I love doing experiments! A day without it, is like I am lost.
Another exciting aspect is working with DNA, RNA, proteins, which we cannot see with naked eye, yet the beauty of each and every cell in our body lies in these invisible molecules.
7. What has your experience been like being a women in STEM?
It has definitely been a positive experience, while I was single. I could put in long hours, I had no responsibilities. In a country like Saudi Arabia, importance was given to every woman. But I also remember, when I had a job offer, the job description demanded that I should not get pregnant within two years of joining the company. Who are they to decide if I should get pregnant or not?! - Such were the rules for being a woman and of married status…
Things changed after having children.
There were instances of work load being reduced, as it was assumed that you (as a woman) would be unable to focus. I was fortunate enough to prove that I could take on more. I worked full-time, breastfed every day at noon (used to go home and then come back) and was focused at work. And I was promoted twice within 3 years whilst having two babies in consecutive years. I think I was able to focus more, because I didn’t let mom-guilt get in the way. I felt it, but I knew how to handle it. A majority of moms struggle with this, which makes them worry about both the baby and the work at hand.
Another disadvantage in STEM fields is that it is very competitive and grows exponentially. This makes it especially difficult for mothers to get back into the job market.
8. Do you find that there are still barriers within the STEM field?
Definitely, there are still BIG barriers! If you look at the statistics, the enrolment of girl: boy ratio in universities are almost equal. But when it comes to girls pursuing a career in the same field, the numbers are too low. Even when a few women enter into the field, how many women does one see as you go up the hierarchy?
• Stereotypes: There is very obvious and clear discriminatory behaviour reported.
• Herself: Women keep questioning their abilities and commitment to their work. This feeling intensifies as women move up the career ladder into managerial positions.
• Mentorship: Having a mentor can improve career opportunities and provide best practices for navigating career paths. This can be difficult when there are only few women in STEM fields.
• Pay: Gender based pay-gap is present. There is also the single woman- mom pay gap to consider.
• Judgement: Women are not expected to know physics, coding, chemistry, space etc, as it is known to be for men. And moms...they’re not expected to know anything!