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Sarah Alshamaily

Student

University of Victoria

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Being a woman, no matter where you are from, is not an indication that you lack the passion or drive to pursue your career or dreams in STEM.

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WHAT DO YOU DO?

I describe myself as a science communicator because I love educating people on all things STEM (mainly physics and astronomy).

 

I also love to encourage more youths, especially those in the Middle East, to venture into STEM fields. I try to raise awareness about how science is so important in our lives, so that young girls and boys in the Middle East would be inspired to take on a potential STEM career.

 

You can say I am very passionate about what I am doing. I have faced many obstacles, but I did not give up on my dream of pursing a degree in Physics and Astronomy. I try to portray the difficulties of my journey as an international student who is a woman, as well as the positive, to show my audience not to give up on your dreams regardless of the challenges one might faces.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS FIELD?

I love answering this question!

 

I was born in Iraq in the year 1995. As time passed, I witnessed the US invasion in 2003. During that time, there was no steady flow of electricity where we lived, so I would take out my small chair and just stare at the night sky and watch the stars, whenever our house did not have electricity. I was fascinated by what was up there. I also asked my family about some space things that puzzled me.

 

Little did I know, that out of this horrible situation in my country, my passion would be born.

 

I moved to Dubai, UAE shortly afterwards and I was still being intrigued and interested by astronomy. I started reading articles, watching videos on different astronomy topics, and having discussions with my teachers in elementary school.

 

During high school, I excelled in math and physics. I found them to be highly challenging, yet so magical. So by that time, I learned that I was also interested in physics because it taught me how everything works the way it does.

 

When it was time to apply for universities, I spoke to a Canadian universities representative and told her how I would like to pursue a Physics and Astronomy degree. She recommended my current university and here I am!

 

After adjusting to the culture and the brand new experience in Canada and university, I started taking part in the Physics and Astronomy Society in my university, where we get to visit the observatory located in Victoria and witness amazing astronomy equipment and discoveries. I also took part in volunteering for my university's own observatory, where I got to welcome many people and explain to them the wonders of space.

HOW DO/DID YOU TACKLE OBSTACLES?

I faced many obstacles along the way, and I still do.

 

My obstacles range from adapting to the new culture that I am immersed in to finding new and efficient ways to study in university. In the beginning, because everything was new to me and I was never this far away from my family, I was struggling to find my footing in university life, even though everyone was welcoming. I had no idea how to adjust nor which resources to look for in order to help me. Also, not to mention, that I had huge Imposter Syndrome symptoms.

 

However, as time went on, I saw that I was (very) slowly adjusting to my new life. I still had deep feelings of nostalgia and homesickness, but I found some comfort in talking with the few friends I made.

 

During one of my conversations with a friend of mine, she mentioned that there was a resource in the university that teaches students how to handle their course load, and gives them tips on how to stay caught up with their classes. So, I decided to give that center a visit. Needless to say, it had helped me a lot.

 

After time passed, I learned to get the hang of things during my university life. I maintained (or tried to most of the time) to keep a positive attitude whenever I am faced with difficulties, this means that I kept learning from every obstacle that was thrown in my way, whether in a personal or academical aspect. I persisted and persevered, and here I am pursing my dream!

 

I still do have these feelings of nostalgia and homesickness, but they are not as strong as before because I have learned to adapt with them, rather than shy away from them.

 

So, some of my ways of handling obstacles are:

 

1) Learn from them. Look at these obstacles as challenges, and do what is necessary to overcome them. The worst that can happen is that you learn something new about yourself from them.

2) Be connected with your surrounding community. If you are in high school, university, or anywhere else, try to explore the resources that are given to you, whether this means making friends, joining clubs, visiting academic advisors, etc. Being connected with the community will help you in making you feel less lonely.

3) Be honest with yourself. If you need a break from all the tasks you are supposed to do, or feel very overwhelmed and stressed that it is starting to affect your mental health, take a break. Doing so will not only help you recharge and be more prepared, but it will prevent you from having burnout.

WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT & THINK, "I WISH YOUNGER ME WOULD HAVE KNOWN THIS WAS POSSIBLE?"

Growing up in the Middle East, there were no science or space camps for kids. There were normal summer camps, but not camps that are STEM themed. I did not know that these camps existed because I was not exposed to them nor did I know of them.

 

It was not until I got to university that I knew such camps existed. I started looking them up to see what kind of activites they do, and I was amazed! From building rockets to learning about the solar system in fun and exciting ways, these camps were the whole package!

 

I wish I knew about these camps when I was younger so that maybe I would have joined them, to learn more about space when I was a kid. The camps just seem to innovative, fun, inclusive, and safe for everyone; they would also be a great place to make friends who share the same interests.

WHY DO YOU LOVE WORKING IN STEM?

Personally, I get this sense of fulfillment whenever I embark on work or a project in STEM. I have this personal connection with the field because of my childhood, so I do not consider it as a job but rather a lifestyle. I think about the things in my daily life that work because of STEM; I am in a continuous state of curiosity because of that. This sense of wonderment is a feeling that I wish upon everyone on planet Earth. It is no secret that I love seeing the hint of a spark in people's eyes when I tell them about STEM.

 

Also, I love the fact that I am bringing a diverse aspect to STEM because I identify as a woman first and a Middle Eastern second; I believe diversity propels humanity forward.

BEST ADVICE FOR NEXT GENERATION?

Even though there are people who want to see you succeed, there are also others who would not want you to . There are, also, many people that might discriminate against you because of your race or the way you look. I have experienced that during my lifetime.

 

I want you to know their criticism has nothing to do with how smart you are, what skills you have, your aspirations, or your strength. Their criticism is a reflection of themselves, not of you.

 

My advice to anyone who identifies with being a woman, is to not let these types of comments affect the way you work in STEM. Being a woman, no matter where you are from, is not an indication that you lack the passion or drive to pursue your career or dreams in STEM.

It might be hard with time to not let these comments get to you, but when they do, know that they are not a measure of your worth or your intelligence.

INSPIRATION

A quote that I always live by is from the famous actor, Denzel Washington:

 

"Nothing in life is worthwhile unless you take risks. Fall forward. Every failed experiment is one step closer to success."

 

The greatest achievments and accomplishments have been made outside the comfort zone; they have been made when people were brave enough to take risks, outside of what they are comfortable in.

 

We all fall in life; it is a deterministic fact. There is nothing we can do to prevent it from happening, but what we can do is to learn from our mistakes and move forward. We will keep falling, but we will fall forward. Always learning from our mistakes in order for us to go forward in life.