Mom of the Month: November 2019

I find that many of us here in South Africa tend to look globally to make comparisons. Whether it is about politics, the education system or the rate of crime. There are so many of us who look to the rest of the world with the view that “everyone else has it all figured out…” If I am grateful for one aspect of our progressiveness as a species…it is for the ability to communicate globally, to have a dialogue with someone one another continent and to dispel some of the myths we may have heard whilst looking through social media.

This month I’ve had the absolute privilege of befriending Sherin Mohammed Shibin. She is a Biotech engineer and currently pursuing a PhD in neurosciences at the University of Toronto, after having worked 6 years as a Research Associate in Saudi Arabia. Sherin wants to show every woman that they can chase their dreams whilst being a mom. She’s using her Instagram page @brownphdmomjournal to break the stigma that mothers are incompetent and to inspire other moms to speak up and explore their talents and strengths. When not in the lab or raising her two daughters; Sherin volunteers at the Canadian Association for Girls In Science (CAGIS), where she runs science events to inspire girls and young women to pursue STEM careers. She is also the Social Media Manager for Mothers in Science (MIS), a platform where STEM moms comes together.

What an absolute powerhouse she is! I have loved the absolute confidence and awareness she has about herself and her field.

Thank you Sherin, you have inspired even more curiosity in my mind at a time where I was sure this journey may be coming to an end.

Bio:

Name: Sherin M Shibin

Age: 31

Location: Canada

Job title: PhD student 2nd year( former Research Associate)

Company: University of Toronto

Mom of the Month: Sherin Shibin

Sherin and her two adorable little humans

Interview with a fellow STEM mom

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!

9. Did becoming a mom change how you experienced your field of work?

It definitely did change a lot.

• As a mom there are a lot of responsibilities at home and kids schooling. With that, comes the sceptical looks you get from your manager for being late to work because you had to attend a kids dental appointment or soccer game your kid is a part of.

• People automatically declare that you are not available for meetings, travel plans, other projects because you are a MOM and BUSY. But in truth, you actually crave growth; yet you are already judged just because you are a MOM.

• You are considered INCOMPETENT - because you gave birth…you apparently pushed out your brains in the process!

• You are always under constant stress because you have to prove yourself at home and you try to push yourself more at work because you’re already judged as incompetent.

• Any opportunity will likely be passed onto others because it’s assumed that you may consider tagging your family along!

• Sometimes, having a sick child or Parent-teacher meetings are perceived as excuses and not real life issues.

10. How do you think organisational spaces could be improved upon in order to better support women in STEM?

• Better support for return to work, especially after maternity leave

• Equal opportunities to moms and other women at work.

• Parent-friendly environment at work places, such as emergency/drop-in day care, when kids are sick and you have to come to work.

• Pregnancy related leaves or occupational changes to accommodate the needs. Pregnancy is not a disease and we can still work, provided it is comfortable.

• Advocate for more women in higher roles.

• Incorporate breastfeeding hours allowing moms to go home/daycare during a lunch break and to breastfeed the child.

11. What do you hope to achieve within your career, whether in the short/long term?

Long term:

• To get into a non-academic industry and to uplift women within the STEM field.

• To mentor moms and feel confident to get back into the job market.

• Provide self-awareness to girls at a very early age about self-esteem, self-confidence and having the ability to speak up.

Short term:

• Complete my PhD

• Advocate for non-academic industry STEM careers

• Volunteer for CAGIS and MiS (mothers in science) 

12. Would you encourage your little one(s) & other young girls to move into a career similar to your own & why?

I would encourage to follow your passion, your desire. I will encourage the girls by saying that no matter what the field is, head straight into it. Be courageous and there will be challenges on the way. The only way to keep up with it is by knowing WHO YOU ARE. All you need is confidence, strength and knowledge, then nothing will stop you, even the barriers are nothing.

13. What's your favourite mom &kiddie activity?

We love to read story books at night and we talk about our day to each other. We love to colour and paint together. My favourite moment is a ‘huggie’ and ‘kissie’ before going to bed.

14. Please could you give fellow STEM moms some advice on how to navigate the challenges within our field.

Some things which I learned being a working mom and a PhD-mom:

• Standing up for yourself should start from home. Don’t stress with a clean house, hot three meals, laundry etc. Speak up and ask your spouse/someone to help. Get your kids to do tasks. Everyone lives in the same house, so everyone does their share. It’s not a ‘one-man’ show!

• Isolation: A severe issue that arises being at work/grad school. You end up having no social life. You did not register your ‘life’ to employer/school, you registered to work/learn and this should not bleed into your personal life. It is difficult to put your foot down and say NO. Learn that art!

• Employers/supervisors won’t always be happy, but they do not hold the keys to your life. Career/education is for you. Those difficult conversations are damn hard. If someone is trying to micromanage or control you, fight back. You are amazing by balancing everything! The one that matters is you!

• As human beings we love to be appreciated and once we become moms, we seek appreciation because we lost ourselves in motherhood. At work/grad school appreciation for moms is NIL. It is hard to stay motivated, but you will learn to be the best judge of your abilities and expertise.

• Stop promoting a lot of these stigmas in society by keeping quiet. Any comment that reeks of incompetence, should be dealt with. We have to face a lot of such people as we move up. It is a struggle. Voice it. Self-respect is important.

• You are there already because you knew that you could! Do not let outward circumstances thwart that confidence.


If you enjoyed this month's feature, be sure to have a look at our earlier featured moms in the #MomoftheMonth tab.

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Keep innovating together!

Kamie