Successful women in science and engineering

(From L-R) KAUST professors Suzana Nunes, Charlotte Hauser and Jasmeen Merzaban are examples of successful and inspiring female scientists.

“If you want to be a scientist, it’s not an easy job—it’s a hard job, and it’s not easy for men or women. There are many things you have to be dedicated to,” said KAUST Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering Suzana Nunes at the University’s 2016 Winter Enrichment Program (WEP) seminar entitled “Women in Science and Engineering.”

The seminar brought together six female scientists at different stages in their careers from around the world to speak about the challenges they overcame to succeed in their fields. The scientists also answered questions from audience members covering a variety of areas important to women working in science, such as balancing work life with childcare and having a family.

Different paths—fascinating careers

Panelists Jasmeen Merzaban, KAUST assistant professor of bioscience; Dr. Brinda Sarathy, associate professor of environmental analysis at Pitzer College (U.S.); Dr. Joanna Haigh, professor at Imperial College London (U.K.); Nunes; KAUST postdoctoral fellow Sandra Schmoeckel; and KAUST Professor of Bioscience Charlotte Hauser stressed that although their journeys in science led them on winding paths, they would not trade their experiences for any other career.

The scientists also noted that in Saudi Arabia, women make up 60% of higher education graduates and will play key roles in the development of the Kingdom’s new knowledge economy, particularly in the fields of science and engineering. They emphasized how there are myriad opportunities to expand the involvement of women in these fields, and targeted their comments at young women about to enter the workforce.

Successful women scientists from KAUST and around the world participate in the University's 2016 WEP seminar entitled "Women in Science and Engineering." By Caitlin Clark

Balancing work and life in the sciences

Merzaban, who in 2014 was awarded a L'Oréal-UNESCO "For Women in Science" fellowship in Dubai, said, “I think it’s important to single out women and show they can become good scientists. It’s also important to show we can have families and manage all the things life offers and still make important scientific contributions.”

“I made no formal career plans,” said Haigh, who is also co-director of Imperial College’s Grantham Institute for Climate Change & Environment. “You must see where the road takes you, and things just usually happen, but it’s important to remember to take opportunities as they come.”

Hauser, who came to KAUST in 2015 from a background marked by successes in academia and industry in Europe and Asia, noted, “It is important you try to go for your dreams, even if there are hurdles. Don’t become afraid—you may encounter challenges, but you will be very proud when you overcome them.

“You must always find the next step further in your career and life journey,” she continued. “Make your own story as a woman in science—that is the most important thing. Don’t be shy and go for it with your ideas!”

- By Caitlin Clark, KAUST News