In her own words: We must realize that there should be no limits for girls
Joana Khatib, a senior in biological sciences at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, shares her perspective about society’s impression of women, especially in science.
Originally published by Qatar Foundation News, February 14, 2021
When I was little, I would be called “princess or beautiful,” and that, like every girl of my age, made me feel special. But as I grew up, I discovered that these traits should not be what defines me. With every year in school, I became more interested with the how things work, and this led me to the world of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
Ever since I began my journey, I am happy to say I was blessed with a very supportive environment. Starting from my family who instilled the love of learning in me, to my teachers in the Little Village School in Syria, and at Bedford High School in the U.S., I grew up believing in my capability in becoming a scientist or a doctor. The idea of being in a laboratory or amongst a scientific or medical team excited me. It motivated me to study harder and delve deeper into biology.
We, in the Arab society, have made remarkable progress in providing quality education to all genders, yet some of us unfortunately still believe that higher studies in STEM are a better fit for men than woman – which is completely wrong and unfair.
In honoring the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we must realize that there should be no limits for girls. Many women in the field of science have proven their scientific abilities – from Rosalind Franklin, whose work was critical to the discovery of the molecular structure of the DNA which Watson and Crick took full credit for in winning the Nobel Prize, to Dr. Jennifer Doudna, who was recently awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2020. Knowing about such achievements by women in STEM motivates us. It proves that stereotyping women is wrong, and just like how beauty does not equate a lack of intelligence, a woman in STEM does not negate having an interesting life.
While I cannot deny that I feel grateful for being complimented for my appearance, but compliments which truly resonate are those which highlight something about my personality, work ethics, or self-development.
This self-belief that I developed with the help of those around me allowed me to grow becoming an independent person taking full charge of one of the best decisions I made thus far – deciding to pursue my undergraduate studies in Qatar at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar (CMUQ). In search of finding a perfect combination of an environment which understands me yet challenges me to improve, I found the learning environment at Qatar Foundation (QF) to be optimum.
Ever since I arrived at Education City, I embarked on an enjoyable journey of knowledge, experiences, communication, and lifelong learning. At CMU-Q, I am inspired to see female professors, colleagues, and staff exceeding societal expectations as they strike a perfect balance between their professional and personal lives while being contributing members in their societies.
During my time in CMU-Q, I majored in biological sciences, worked as a course assistant with different professors, a resident’s advisor at the student dorms, and worked on projects with team members of various majors. These experiences and the people with whom I formed truly meaningful bonds made me feel like I was home.
Today, the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has had a direct impact on us as students with a scientific background. It has opened our eyes to the opportunities through which we can contribute to limit the spread of this pandemic – whether by participating in research, exploiting key biological mechanisms, or benefitting from the overlap of the STEM fields.
The pandemic has left an indelible mark on me, just like it has on many others. This along with other current humanitarian crises are strengthening my purpose and motivating me to find a way to learn and contribute. Thus, as I graduate this spring, I plan to work in the biomedical field while continuing my journey in cancer research in hopes of fulfilling my duty of providing health services to those of less fortunate circumstances.
As we celebrate the successes of every woman’s contribution in science, I ask each girl with a passion for STEM to believe in herself. With ambition and hard work, we can achieve what we want; and no stereotypes can put a stop to our aspirations.