Beyond the Ordinary: Careers in STEAM
Our panelists discussed incorporating the arts – humanities, language arts, design and new media –into core STEM concepts for a broader focus on careers in science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM).
JAWAHER ALMUTLAQ: Good afternoon, and good evening. Welcome to today's IBK Webinar, Beyond the Ordinary: Careers in STEAM, also known as science, technology, engineering, art and math. My name is Jawaher AlMutlaq I have a PhD in Material Science and Engineering from KAUST and I'm a recipient of the Ibn Khaldun Fellowship.
You may be wondering why our discussion tonight used the acronyms STEAM rather than STEM. In this discussion, it was important to us to include the A for Arts, which also represents humanities and design. It is at the intersection of the sciences and arts that we find many of the most interesting questions of our time.
Our speakers are all former IBK fellows who represent many research disciplines. It is exciting to see the impact of the IBK fellowship on people's careers. One of the things fellows gathered here tonight have in common is that all ended up in leadership positions. I'm excited to hear how they found a way into out of the ordinary careers by moving beyond the traditional boundaries of their disciplines.
Our program tonight consists of a discussion between our panelists, followed by a question and answer session where our speakers would answer questions. Please post your questions in the Q&A feature as we go along, and we will answer them all at the end.
First, I'd like to welcome Professor Kamal Youcef-Toumi, professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT and the Director of the Ibn Khaldun Fellowship for Saudi Arabian women. Welcome, Professor Kamal.
KAMAL YOUCEF-TOUMI: Thank you. Thank you, Dr. Jawaher for hosting and for the introduction. I also thank Dorothy and Nadiyah for organizing the webinar. And of course, you know, our thanks and pleasure for our speakers today in this important webinar.
Maybe just a word about the Ibn Khaldun Program for those who are not familiar with it. So it was established actually when we started the collaboration with KFUPM, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, but to me, this was way back in 2008. We admitted the first two Fellows in 2012 with Aramco and the help of his excellency, Khalid AlFaleh, that the program was expanded for five years until 2013.
And then in 2018, the program was renewed for another 10 years and this is now under the sponsorship of KACST. And I'd like to thank all of the people who were working behind the scene in making the program continue. As of now, the program has been very, very successful.
And we're very proud of our Fellows not only for the work that they have done in a while at MIT, but more importantly, I think what all the contributions that they have been making back in the United Kingdom, within their communities, and also in the research and development that they have continued when they went back to their institutions. So thank you all for being with us today, and I'm looking forward to hearing about the award presentations and comments for today's webinar. Thank you.
JAWAHER ALMUTLAQ: Thank you, professor. Now, I'd like to welcome our panelists this evening, Dr. Haleema Alamri, Dr. Malak Althagafi, Dr. Omaima Bamasaq, Dr. Sumaya Al-Solaiman. At this time, I'd like to invite each of our speakers to introduce themselves, and tell us about their connection to STEAM. Dr. Haleema, would you go first?
HALEEMA ALAMRI: Thank you so much, Jawaher, for that introduction. And it's truly a pleasure and honor to be here tonight with my brilliant colleagues and our amazing host, Professor Kamal, Dorothy and Nadiyah. It's always a pleasure to connect with great people from MIT, and also, our colleague, the audience joining us tonight.
So my name is Haleema Alamri. I am a Research Scientist and a Program Leader at Saudi Aramco, the Research and Development Center. I am a polymer chemist. I have PhD in Polymer Science from KAUST. And I've been inside Aramco for almost 4 years.
It's been really a very productive, alhamdulillah, and fruitful journey. And I'm here today to share some of the tools and techniques that's helped me really navigate through this journey with a very successful alhamdulillah career. And the big part of that is definitely through what I have learned through Ibn Khaldun and my one-year fellowship at MIT. So it would be really my pleasure tonight to shared on and learn with you. Thank you, Jawaher.
JAWAHER ALMUTLAQ: Dr. Omaima?
OMAIMA BAMASAQ: Yes, [ARABIC]. Thank you very much, Dorothy, Professor Kamal, Nadiyah, for organizing this wonderful webinar. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my experience and leadership at STEM. And thanks, all the attendees, for staying the time to be with us.
My name is Omaima Bamasaq. I am a full professor in Cybersecurity. I am the Vice Dean of College of Computer Science and Engineering at University of Jedda. I am also the Director of the Center of Excellence in Smart Environment Research at King Abdulaziz University.
I am a former Ibn Khaldun fellow and a current Visiting Researcher at MIT. I've spent almost a year and a half from September 2014 'til March 2016 at MIT. During this journey, I've learned a lot. It has contributed a lot to my personality, to my perspective, to my knowledge, and then to what I've contributed back to my work based on society. And I'm really pleased to share this experience with you all tonight. Thank you very much, Jawaher.
JAWAHER ALMUTLAQ: Thank you, Dr. Omaima. Dr. Sumaya?
SUMAYA AL-SOLAIMAN: Thank you, Dr. Jawaher. I also extend my thanks to the organizers, obviously, Dorothy and Nadiyah. And also great to see you again, and thank you again, Professor Kamal.
I am the odd one out. I have to say, right from the beginning, because often you talk about STEM, and I kind of put the A in the middle somewhere so that we have STEAM as in arts and design in general. And for me, I think being an Ibn Khaldun fellow and having that kind of background initially, I kept thinking, yes, I am the odd one out, but I found so many commonalities, I think, between all the different disciplines. So I'm really happy to be part of this panel tonight to talk maybe more about the things that unite us rather than the things that differentiate each discipline.
So my background is, first of all, I started my bachelors in Interior Architecture, then did a masters and PhD in Architecture. I got my PhD from Newcastle University. And then I also did the postdoctoral fellowship at MIT.
So with that background in architecture, I've had diverse experiences, given jobs that may or may not have been suitable at the time. So I was, let's say, Head of Graphic Design Department, for instance. I was a Vice Dean for Quality Accreditation, and later became Dean of the College of Design, managing three departments of which were Interior Design, Graphic Design and Industrial Design.
I'm also a former member of the municipal council, and that was a very enriching experience, if also, frustrating. And I'm also a columnist in the newspaper, I published a book of those columns. And I'm currently just over six months into a new job, which is being the CEO of the newly established Architecture and Design Commission, which is part of the Ministry of Culture in Saudi Arabia.
So an exciting journey, I think, all throughout, with lots of diverse career paths, but then I think all of them joining in a job that I'm extremely happy to be in at the moment. So this is the short version of me. Thank you.
JAWAHER ALMUTLAQ: Thank you, Dr. Sumaya. Dr. Malak?
MALAK ALTHAGAFI: [ARABIC] Good evening, everyone. Thank you Dr. Jawaher for the introduction. Thank you, Dorothy and Nadiyah and Professor Kamal for the invitation.
I'm actually not a former IBK fellow, but I'm from KACST. And I'm also recently supervising this IBK Fellowship from KACST's side. But I have a connection with MIT, which is I was the recipient of the Young Investigator Award from the Arab Students' Association in 2015 in MIT.
I'm a physician-researcher, so I graduated from a medical school here in Saudi Arabia. I did my postgraduate in the US, specializing in Pathology, Neuropathology, Molecular Genetics. I'm also a researcher. I call myself a transition researcher. I study molecular genetics of human diseases, especially focusing on brain tumors.
My experience as executive or leaders, it came from our-- now, I'm the Director General for General Directorate for National RDI coordination. And I'm also the Director at KACST, and I'm also the Director of Satellite Research Administration at King Fahad Medical City, where we have three administrations, Genomic Research Department, National Neuroscience Research Department, and Research Collaboration Department.
Very happy to be here tonight and to learn from each one of you. And I know Dr. Sumaya like to add the A to make it a STEAM, and I would love to add also the second M to it, for medicine. Thank you.
JAWAHER ALMUTLAQ: Thank you, Dr. Malak. And thank you all. Very excited to hear about your out-of-the-ordinary careers. To get it started, can you tell us about someone in your life who inspired you to have a career in STEAM? Dr. Malak, can you go first?
MALAK ALTHAGAFI: Yeah, my first inkling that I would become a scientist or a physician, it came actually when I was hospitalized as a young child in the late 80s. I received my surgery in London, and then my parents told me they were going to take me to this genetic specialist in Saudi Arabia at that time in Riyadh. So I sat waiting for with other dozen of children in the clinics in King Fahad Specialist Hospital.
When the specialist arrived, I was shocked because she was leading a group of doctors around her at the clinic. She dictated wireless coupling furiously. And then late 80s, I asked who is this doctor? And I learned she is Dr. Nadia Awna Sakati, who's actually established one of the first genetics department in Saudi Arabia and even in the Middle East.
It was clear that she had won the respect of her peers, both in the lab and in the clinic. And it was very exciting for me to know that she would be my doctor at such a young age until actually I graduated from medical school. She refused for me to move from Pediatric to Adult Internal Medicine Department.
So she was part of my life growing as a child, as a teenager, as adolescent, and then as a young physician. And then, I was lucky to see her almost every month during the journey. This is really the reason why I wanted to be a doctor and why I wanted to study genetics. Jawaher.
JAWAHER ALMUTLAQ: Thank you, Dr. Malak. Thank you so much. I would like to invite all the panelists to share their stories about someone who inspired you to be top at your careers, too. Please feel free to free to join as you wish.
SUMAYA AL-SOLAIMAN: So, I might go next. So for me, I think the most inspiring person to get me into architecture was my uncle. He was an architect and still is.
And I remember, even as a child, going into his room and looking at, let's say, his equipment, the rulers he had, all the different things that I thought, you know, that was so-- I don't know, it was intriguing in a way because I thought they look like serious tools that I would one day like to use myself. And growing up talking to him about certain aspects of the city architecture in general, and even specifically, just before graduating high school, he kept saying, "You know what? I see something in you. And I think you have it, what it takes to be an architect."
And at the time, the programs weren't really available for women. The only program there was, the Interior Architecture Program. And for me, it was this idea that I didn't really think that I could be suitable to this kind of career.
But he saw something in me, it pushed me to apply, at least apply. I wanted it, but I thought I had more of a business mind. I couldn't really see, I think, what I had, or what he was able to see. And in applying, I actually had first place. It was a very limited program at the time.
I'm so happy to join and it really felt in a way as if, I don't want to say easy, but it felt natural, that, yes, this is the content, everything that was there, it completely suited me. I was more on the outside, looking in, I think, into the profession, not really knowing exactly what it entailed. But it was him who really gave me the confidence to apply to the program, and then flourished in it. So I'm really happy and grateful for that.
JAWAHER ALMUTLAQ: Interesting. Anyone else?
OMAIMA BAMASAQ: Yes, I can go. For me, there were two persons who influenced and inspired me, my father and my husband. Since my early age, my father used to take me to the bookshop to buy books as a gift of the interferon passing with the high grades. So I just pick up the books that I wanted, whether it is science or literature.
And then, I read them through the summer vacation, and he used to discuss them with me, and to ask me questions, and to see if I understood them. And I used to go to this library at home to read books just randomly. I think that by that time, it built the scientist and the curiosity of learning and knowing and asking questions.
And it really helped me and shaped my personality over to even taking the decision of specializing in computer science. When the time comes at high school, and computer science was very new. It was just a year before I establish at King Abdulaziz University. So I was among the first batch to go into that discipline, which was, as I said, completely new.
So my father encouraged me to go there, and by that time, I got engaged. So it was the turn of my husband to push me and to encourage me even when I went to Manchester to do my masters and PhD. It was really quite challenging with the kids with me.
And he inspired, well, he actually encouraged me to even apply for five star universities. And he told me, "You can be there, and you can succeed." And, alhamdulillah, I did. So I'm really grateful and thankful for them.
JAWAHER ALMUTLAQ: Thank you so much, [INAUDIBLE] I'm also grateful for you. Dr. Haleema?
HALEEMA ALAMRI: Thank you so much. I think my experience was a little bit different. So although I grow up in a family with a lot of engineers and medical doctors, it seems to me at this early age that men are very successful somehow, whereas women do not really-- I mean, I didn't see female scientists at early stage of my life succeeding as like the male in the family, for example. And that was really a big question for me.
I remember I was reading lots of books to see if does those women exist, like really women who can make a difference and being pioneers in different field. And I remember there was a book about a woman on the Golden Age, in the Islamic Golden Age. And I was really amazed.
I remember reading these books for a very several times. And I think it's always even until now, it inspires me because there was a great example in our history where women really make a difference and they would pioneer in different fields. And they were recognized for their efforts.
So I think that was really a fundamental part of me growing up and trying to find examples and in our histories and women who make big huge difference in different fields. And some of them was very new. I remember reading about Fatima al-Fihri, a Tunisian.
She was the first woman to create universities and how did she go about that. It was really a very interesting and inspiring way of seeing things from different perspective in a younger age. So I think that was the big part of how I really was inspired that we can really be part of that momentum and create the difference. And there is a lot of examples that can o inspire us.
JAWAHER ALMUTLAQ: Indeed. Thank you all. So you have all taken on leadership roles in your careers. Some key characteristics of leaders are vulnerability, resilience and flexibility. Please tell us about a time in your career when being able to be vulnerable, resilient, or flexible was important to you.
Go ahead, please.
SUMAYA AL-SOLAIMAN: Thank you. I think that's a great question because vulnerability I think is associated a lot with weaknesses. And so if you show your weakness, so basically, it might send the message that you're not of leadership quality, that may be whoever chose you didn't make the right decision. And I think that's a problem that a lot of women perhaps even face more just because there's always this idea that we have to prove ourselves.
We're given a chance that is not given to everyone. A lot of the leadership positions are given to men by default. And whenever a woman gets into that job, there's always this idea, do I have to conform? So I think many women lose, I think, even their femininity. They lose their own identity by trying to prove themselves in a leadership position where they don't necessarily have enough female role models.
I think over the last, maybe, five years that changed because I think we see many more strong leader, strong female leaders, I think, all around us, really paving the way, in a way that is different. So I think we have different leadership styles. I know that vulnerability is a quality. It could be something that even a man displays, but I think it comes more natural to women in the sense that we have more empathy with the people that you work with.
And having, let's say, this freedom or maybe not freedom, let's say, being brave enough to actually say, "You know what? I don't know. I don't have the answers." That puts you in a little bit of a jeopardizing position sometimes. But actually, knowing who to say that to I think is important.
So I mean, it's very hard to maybe put everything that I'm thinking of sharing in words because I mean, there are so many different, let's say, situations, where you get to a point where you just have to say, "I'm out of my depth at certain times." Doesn't mean you're doing a bad job, not necessarily. I think having the right person to reach out to might be really helpful in that, and allowing yourself that vulnerability as in something that is going to be a tool for you to grow. So, yeah, that's just my two cents maybe now, and I'm really interested to hear from all the other panelists and to make jump in at the end as well. So thank you.
JAWAHER ALMUTLAQ: Yeah, thank you.
HALEEMA ALAMRI: I can comment. Actually, I just want to say that whoever would be working with Dr. Sumaya is so lucky to have such a leader, paving the way, and having such a mentality. So it does make a huge difference to have someone who does really understand about paving the way for female leaders to really be part of this culture and leadership.
I think if I want to talk about all the elements you mentioned, resilience is I think one of the huge elements that really helped me navigate in a lot of situation. And if I want to put this into context, I would say as a scientist, for example, you have a toolkit of different tools that you can use as a scientist to help you progress in your scientific career, things like solving problems and critical thinking. In other areas, for example, and other tools might be helpful, in your communication styles for example.
But resilience is really a skills or tools that really emerges at the intersection of all domains. And if you master those skills and you learn how to apply them, you would really be able to navigate easily in different situations. And that's I think, it's a really critical element for people to understand and to apply.
It's, for me, how do you bounce back when you are in a stressful situation? And how do you learn to do that without really dwelling on the failure or blaming yourself or others? So as a polymer scientist, for me, resilience is like the rubber ball when you squeeze it.
It's very strong. It's changed shape. It's very flexible. But then it goes back to its normal shape when you release the stress.
So flexibility and resilience is really important in anyone in the leadership position, especially females, to understand this concept and to apply it in all different aspects. So if you have the skills, really, it will help you navigate, whether you're working in a stressful situation every day, or working with difficult people, with a difficult character, or difficult science. It's just a quality that is really very important.
And I think flexibility is essential part of it. So blending that you have to be the resistant and looking toward your goals, but also you have to be flexible. Change your approach. Learn a new way of doing things. So I think one of the elements that I learned early in my career and helped me really more significantly is being resilient and flexible at the same time.
JAWAHER ALMUTLAQ: Thank you.
OMAIMA BAMASAQ: I could add more to Haleema's comment on resilience because all the features are important for a leader, resilience, flexibility and vulnerability. And for resilience, I've experienced it myself throughout my career. It was all about challenges. So resilience, in my perspective, is about sailing through challenges, accept them and succeed in them.
It started when I got back from my PhD, and the college had just started. And it was a huge challenge for us to build the college with all the department with a very few staff there. So we were working almost day and night, with a new college, with a new programs, with a shortage of staff, to build the college which has now, alhamdulillah, renowned in the kingdom.
And given that it was-- I'll just say that it was quite challenging for us as females in the discipline of computer science, as well, to even find colleagues and even recruit people to come along and to work at the college. Then, probably the most dominant example now is facing COVID-19. So being resilient in this area has been really challenging for us.
All the education institutes has shifted overnight to online with all of the teaching, and the staff, and the work. So it was very important for me to work around these challenges, to be near people, to listen to them, to support the student, to support the faculty, to navigate through these challenges, and to provide the environment that they could work in, to extend even the working hours. So we almost work 'til midnight to give the enough support in such a challenging area. So, yes, being resilient is very, very important for us, for being successful in leadership in STEM, especially. Thank you very much, Jawaher.
JAWAHER ALMUTLAQ: Thank you, Dr. Omaima. Dr. Malak, could you add something?
MALAK ALTHAGAFI: Yeah, your question is very interesting. You've been asking, "Tell us a time in your career where you're being vulnerable or resilient or flexible." It's actually almost everyday day.
JAWAHER ALMUTLAQ: Interesting.
MALAK ALTHAGAFI: Vulnerability, resilience, flexibility, it's actually becoming increasingly valuable skills. Although in case in our culture, we've been always, most of the time, being discouraged to show our vulnerability. But this is actually not correct.
In modern workplaces, you know there is unpredictable thing and changing often happen constantly. I mean what happened now was COVID-19, it's a simple example. Also, to making a substantial change in the way we think and work and behave, you have to have this skill on a daily basis. This is true not only at work, as actually in our personal life.
Every day, you have to make a realistic plan. You have to carry on this plan. You'll be able to manage your feeling, and to be in a healthy matters. And you have to also be confident in your strength and ability. You'll be able to adopt a change.
What really amazed me, that we are all, we're pretty resilient. When we were little as kids, we fall down, we pick ourselves up again. We did not shy from doing this. I think developing this resilience is a very personal process, and it has to be continued and grow up with us.
What I think distinguish a leader from a non-leader is the ability of us to keep us this childhood resilient habit inside us. So if we have this resilience, we can react to the stress and trauma. We can do what others see as an impossible to do. And I can give you two extreme examples.
In my research work, I was forced to work with all-female researcher. And as you can imagine, most of my communication actually was with males. And there was a lot of back and forth, and some people really did not have all the respect for my staff or other. So really, you have not to build the resilience in myself. Actually, sometime you have to build it in your team. And that's what you have to do and tell them it's OK, and you have to do it.
Now in the other situation now, in other work where I have more executive or managerial skill, I'm the only female in the room. And here I have to be more flexible to try to show them what can I bring to the table, and how they can make them also try to be flexible to accept these changes. So as I told you, it's an everyday, I use it every day almost.
JAWAHER ALMUTLAQ: Thank you so much, Dr. Malak. That's really insightful. So for me, I'm a fresh graduate, and I'm really curious what qualities and skills were influential to your career in STEAM?
HALEEMA ALAMRI: I can start here maybe. I think being an open-minded and looking for innovative ways to do things was really key elements to me. And that's because nowadays success is really not measured by what college degree you have or what experience you have. It's about how much value you can add. And you can add value in different ways.
And if you look at things from different perspectives and find innovative way to add values whether to the work itself, to the people you work with, or to the organization, that's really a huge quality that people should be really looking at. And key ball is an open mind looking for new trends, looking for emerging technologies for our case, for example, and try to see how those can be fit in whatever we're doing. So I think a big part of, because we acquired a lot of really fundamental skills through our studies or work or whatever we're doing, but these skills become relevant once you use them the right way, having the right mentality, and the open mind way of thinking around different, seeing things from different perspective.
And I think now, everything has become multidisciplinary and all those different scientific fields start emerging in one way or the other. So learning is not really a very static process. It's a very dynamic and keeping up with all those knowledge coming up is very, very important, I think.
JAWAHER ALMUTLAQ: Interesting. So that's being open-minded and staying updated always?
HALEEMA ALAMRI: Yes, and also trying to find different ways to do things, yes.
MALAK ALTHAGAFI: I can add to this, too, a great advice. To have a commitment of a lifelong learning, this is very important, again, to always look for a new-- I never stop doing things even outside your area of specialty. Now, we are living in a world where the theory of interdisciplinary is really becoming more and more important. So you really have to prepare for this. The other thing, I really found it very, very useful, at least in my career, is to have a strong collaboration. We've always been accused as a woman in science that we don't collaborate. But this is not true actually. I think collaboration and building your string of support, and also support network, is very important to you. The other thing, I also find it very useful, is to have really good communication skill, and not to be shy about it, and always try to present yourself and lean in to the table. It's just what I just wanted to add.
JAWAHER ALMUTLAQ: Interesting. So that's always being open to collaboration and being committed to learning, and always-- What was the last point again? Ah, communication skills.
MALAK ALTHAGAFI: Have good communication skills and always present yourself and lean, and because sometimes, they would not see you even if you are around.
JAWAHER ALMUTLAQ: Absolutely, yes. Dr. Omaima?
OMAIMA BAMASAQ: Yes, I would add to those wonderful advices for the starting up with a career in STEM. It's also to not be afraid of challenges. Accept the challenge. Even if it seems to be terrifying and dreading, acceptance them. I'm not saying no because when you accept challenge, it open the door.
It even speed the way more for you to go on, to explore new areas, and to find yourself probably in different situations where you could flourish. Networking, also, it's very, very important feature that I would advice to have, networking, good communication skills and keeping good relationships with people around you even if you are not on the same page because this would really help you and support you in your future and in leadership part. These are my two cents in this. Thank you.
JAWAHER ALMUTLAQ: Thank you, Dr. Omaima. Dr. Sumaya?
SUMAYA AL-SOLAIMAN: So I think you took all the good ones. But I'm going to try and add my two cents to this. I think what we have to understand is that all these skills are extremely important. But that nobody is like anybody else. And we sometimes fall into this pitfall where we start comparing ourselves to others, measuring ourselves, and then thinking we're not good enough or that kind of thing.
And I think a different combination of skills across different people, that's what really makes a great team. So to add to, let's say, everything that was-- I completely agree with everything that was said. The constant learning I think is extremely important, facing the world with a sense of curiosity, wonder, wanting to learn, having that always.
And then my advice would also be ask stupid questions. So I think we've always been in a room where somebody says something and you just look around and you haven't understood it. And you just think, "Maybe I'm the only one who didn't." And when somebody just voices that question, everybody's like, "Yes, really, yes, that was exactly what I was going to ask." And I think that's the only way to learn.
Be brave, ask those questions. And when it comes to learning things, don't just keep them to yourselves. I think the best thing to do is then also actually teach to others, because it's only when you then start to organize the information in your mind and you want to communicate that to someone that it becomes much clearer in a way that is then applied.
Because I think in our day and age, where there's so much knowledge at the click of a button, we fall into this trap where we think we could find out anything, anytime. But we don't actually retain anything. And I think once you start teaching others and you talk about these things, then it becomes much more solid and it gets into our minds on a different level.
Another thing is I think knowing where we are on this kind of spectrum, are you a generalist? Are you someone who looks at things and is able to connect them? Or are you more of a specialist?
Because I think that also helps, just knowing your position and place in terms of what your capabilities are because no one of those is right or wrong. But it's just more important to maybe just understand how we fit in, so that we are really able to contribute in the best way possible. So I'll stop there. Thank you.
JAWAHER ALMUTLAQ: Thank you so much, Dr. Sumaya. Thank you everyone for the great advices. I'm sure everyone has already taken notes. So the question the next question is, when is the time you took a risk? Did it pay off? And what did you learn? Dr. Haleema, would you like to go first?
HALEEMA ALAMRI: Yeah, sure. I think I wouldn't call it risk, although it was like the uncertainty of that time was really putting me in a very difficult situation to decide. When I finished my PhD in KAUST, I had multiple offers from universities. And I really have this academic mentality. I really like to do science and population, like that was my passion.
And then I had this offer from Saudi Aramco, and I was like-- should I like-- People when I talk to some professor, they would say, "Industry will turn you into a technician. Why would you go to industry?" So there was even no that much encouragement for me to go to industry. But then taking that long time in academia was, for me, not very correlated to the real application in the world.
So I wanted really to see how this industries doing things, like the actual things, the actual products and putting them into markets. So I took the stress and I said, "It is Saudi Aramco, anyway, yanni, It could never go wrong." And it was one of the best decision I've ever made in my life.
And it was actually that connection to MIT, Ibn Khaldun, Aramco, was sponsoring this program at this time. And you can't ever imagine, like I get admitted to Ibn Khaldun within two months, I get to Saudi Aramco. So I was like, this is the right decision. Definitely, it should be the right decision and I combined both.
And I think in this dynamic world now, even the business model is emerging. So there is this like the line between industry and academia is also blending. But at that time when I was thinking where should I go, there was a lot of uncertainty around it. There was no really female leaders who might really showed you the right example, this would work or not.
But still alhamdulillah, it was really a good decision that I learnt a lot. And it opens my eyes to a different domain. So in industry, they speak business basically, and that was a totally different language for me. And then I took a lot of time to learn about doing business, and how should be done.
And so it's all been my curiosity to a different, really, a new world. And that's expanded my horizon in multiple ways. So I am really grateful for myself that time that I took this decision. And it's really one of the best decision I've ever made.
JAWAHER ALMUTLAQ: Thank you, Dr. Haleema. Thank you for bringing this academia-slash-industry up. It's definitely something that everyone, who has a pitch there, has thought about this before. So I would like to invite other panelists to answer the question about the time they took a risk.
OMAIMA BAMASAQ: I could go, Jawaher. Sure. The time that I took a decision and alhamdulillah, it was risky at that time, but now it is alhamdulillah one of the blessings, when I specialized in cybersecurity. I started my masters in 2000. At that time, cybersecurity was just in its infancy. So it wasn't really known very well and it was male dominant as a computer science at that time.
So I was reading about it, and I got very interested in the subject. So when I applied for the masters at University of Manchester, and it was course-based. So when I entered the class the first time, I was the only woman among 21 men in the class. So I was really, at the beginning, I was so terrified.
What did I do? Was it the right place for me? Is it the right specialization? Would I be successful in that career being the only one among the class?
Then it was actually during even the class. It was quite challenging to even blend and to get into the classmates and to do the projects and the coursework. After the first semester when the grades was out, and alhamdulillah, I was among the first. I got it with distinction.
So the table turned. And I was easily blending with everyone and I found, alhamdulillah, an easy pathway with them. And then after that, when I did my PhD in, also, cybersecurity, I was among the first even in and Saudi Arabia to hold it. And, alhamdulillah, it was the right decision to take.
JAWAHER ALMUTLAQ: Interesting, thank you for sharing. Dr. Malak, would you like to go next?
MALAK ALTHAGAFI: Yes, I will tell you something related to what Haleema said. So I decided to do my MBA in my first year of residency. And for those who don't know medical field, residency is the first postgraduate, turning you to as a physician to do your specialty.
So this is my-- Everybody else, "You're crazy. You do your residency, it's a burden itself. So now, you want to do an MBA also? So you want to take classes at night?" Yeah, I will do it. I always was curious about business and think that they told me, "This has had nothing to do with medicine."
Really, especially the people who know me, they know I wanted to do genetics and research. There is nothing, no business on this at all. I said, "Fine, I'll do it." And year passed, and I took it, I did it. It was crazy.
Now, if you told me to do it again, I don't think I can do it again. I think I was a younger and free to do it. But I did it, and year passed. And today, I really know that business. And all this education, I decided to give it to myself, now it's payback in a good way.
Now, I don't have my own business, but I talk with a lot of business people. I'm trying to make the business of medicine actually more human to make this care available to everyone we know now in your ward, everything, including medicine, attending to business and a profit, corporatization. There's the art of it, how to still make it human with all the circumstances we have.
The other things happened, I can't tell you. It was a bad trait. It wasn't a risk, really.
So I was the kind of OCD about doing everything when I first started doing research on my own. I just wanted to do everything on my own, from day-to-day operations, to bench work, to making calls, and meeting everything, writing paper, everything. I don't ask for help.
And then I quickly, like being field, come on, there is something wrong because I just wasn't trying to do all of this. And my schedule got busier and busier. So here I practice more the art of delegation.
So I started to delegate effectively the untrained and have a trust on the people. Because the people who work with me, I chose them. I work with them. So I should have enough trust to delegate them, to do even all and even important tasks.
With this, when I started to do this, the last four or five years, we won several awards as a team. We published a lot of paper, and I believe a lot of this has to do with my ability to delegate effectively. Thank you.
JAWAHER ALMUTLAQ: Interesting. Of course, the delegation and team work always pays off. Thank you so much for sharing. Dr. Sumaya?
SUMAYA AL-SOLAIMAN: Yes, amazing stories. And I think what Dr. Malak is saying about delegation and having trust, I think is one of the really hard ones to let go. I think a lot of us, we tend to control things a lot. And then whenever you keep the work to yourself, and once somebody else comes along, it's like until you see it succeeded.
I think it's an amazing thing that can happen. But I think we take risks in different ways. So there is always, I mean, when I think about risk, for me, it's a lot of the times, it's more about the idea or a failure.
So what am I risking exactly? And every turn, there's always this possibility. I'm a person who mostly says yes, so there's always the risk of, let's say, overburdening myself. But when I also say yes to opportunities that I've never had before, or they're completely out of my comfort zone, or even not on the radar, something that I just don't know anything about, somebody else is saying, "You know what, we think you would be perfect for this. Would you mind contributing?"
For me, I think of myself a lot of the times as being on a peak, and then looking at another peak. And to get to the next one, which is my goal, I have to go down and then through the valley and up again. And from that kind of vision on the top, I can't really see all the pitfalls, all of the issues that are there.
So it can become scary at times, but once you have a goal in mind, I think it becomes easier. So for me, it's more a matter of calculating the risk. So instead of saying, what happens if I fail, it's so much more exciting to say, "You know what, it would be amazing to actually reach that other peak."
So actually, looking at the possibility of success, rather than looking at a failure. And I know once, you're down in the valley, it might look bleak. You could be tired, just like I just really want to give up. But having that vision, I think, is one of those drivers.
So taking a risk, calculating it right, knowing our abilities to a certain extent, but then also trusting ourselves to go beyond those. Because I think having that kind of opportunity for personal growth only comes when we challenge ourselves. And that I think is because every risk has this exciting aspect to it.
I can actually do this, and I want to prove to myself that I can. And that's what usually is the driver. So if it's risky, bring it on, I don't mind. Yeah.
JAWAHER ALMUTLAQ: Interesting. Thank you so much. That's a good way to look at it. So now our last question, what advice do you want to give to anyone hoping to have a career in STEAM?
HALEEMA ALAMRI: I think I can maybe start here. I think having a clear goal, what do you want exactly from a career in STEAM. Is it that you're so passionate about your science, and you just want to be a scientist and pursue this career, and see how things and science works? And you're so curious and compassionate about it?
Or you do want to be a leader in that field and then to pursue it from a different perspective. So I think having a really clear goal about what's exactly interest you, what exactly do you want, and then just keep working toward that goal. I think that, for me, at least, was really the driving force all the time to keep progressing.
And I know exactly what I want to do. And I know exactly where I want to go. I can't see the goal but I am not sure about all the steps that I have to take to be there. And as Dr. Sumaya mentioned, I am on the peak and I just want to go to the other one.
I know I have to go through different challenges, but I'm willing to take this risk. And I think it goes back again to being risk areas and a lot of uncertainties around, so many decisions that we may be taking. But then, eliminating all those fears because it's just us not knowing exactly what these uncertainties is about.
And so what make us really hesitant to pursue some of our goals. So take the time to learn more about where you want to go and why exactly do you want it. And then take active steps toward it.
And just build your resilience towards it. If you're really willing and wanting to win and reach your goal, then you should always have this positive mindset that Dr. Sumaya was talking about. And try to never quit, like it shouldn't be one of your thinking areas or aspect that quitting is an option.
So I will win. I might take some time to figure it out. I will take this step or this next to one, but I know I'm clear on my goal, and I know exactly what I want to go. And I'm just going to do whatever it takes to reach my goal. I think that, for me, was a big element of achieving what was it that I wanted to do in my life.
SUMAYA AL-SOLAIMAN: I'd like to go next, actually, just because to contrast a little bit of what you're saying. So I mean, I completely admire you, Dr. Haleema, for knowing exactly what you want because I think, for me, it was a little different thinking about what I want, or at least I thought I knew what I wanted. So at every step, you think, yes, this looks amazing. Sometimes in the middle of it, you have these doubts.
So I mean, one of the examples for instance was I was 3/4 down my PhD in Architecture when all of a sudden I thought, "You know what, I really want to study biology." And you know, completely different, and it was this soul-searching moment where I thought, you know what, I'm writing about ideas that have come about from the works of other people. And I'm commenting on it.
It feels like it's not any primary work that I was doing. And I felt, at the time, that this might be insignificant, and why am I doing this. And there's so much wonder and excitement I think all around this that even just in nature. So I wanted to look at that.
And I think having these moments of doubt, sometimes actually help in clarifying why exactly am I not happy with that. And so constantly questioning myself, do I know how I ended up here? Yes, I do know, in retrospect. Did I plan to end up here? Definitely not.
When I went into academia, it was all about, "I really like to teach and I love research." So those were my drivers at the time. And all of a sudden, I found myself in a position where I'm the only one with a PhD, so now you get the leadership role.
And it just meant that I couldn't do the things I love anymore as much as I wanted to. But it put me in a different position and really kind of helped me to reframe how I was able to then, let's say, use some of these skills. And you get to a certain point where you say, you know, I'm just going to do my time doing this.
But at a certain time, you then really say, "You know what, there's certain aspects that I didn't expect that I really enjoy at the moment." And so for me, it's not I may have a long-term goal, I may have these interim goals, but I think it's more about having the ability to have that constant question. For me, I still ask myself, what do I want to do when I grow up?
And so we ask our children and at very young ages and then we think once you have the answer, that's it. In STEAM or STEM, I think you have to be resilient in the sense that whatever you start with may not necessarily be the thing that you end up with. But that doesn't necessarily mean that it's a bad thing. It just means that we're evolving.
And sometimes our clarity of what a job or discipline entails is a little foggy at the outset, but in the end, it clarifies a bit more and more. So yeah, that's my contrasting way of looking at it.
MALAK ALTHAGAFI: I mean, all great advices. And I just want to choose to tell three advices that it helped me. Probably it would not help you, but it's always good to hear from people, and just apply to your life what worked for you.
So one of the things I learned is ignore the pressure to pursue a different field or specialty. This happened to me twice, actually. The first time when I told my colleagues in the medical school internship that I want to go and study pathology, so someone made a joke and said, "You want to be the doctor in the basement where nobody see you? Why you don't be a surgeon--" I was an A student in surgery, actually.
I have some [INAUDIBLE]. I like surgery and stuff. No, I wanted to do this because-- So there was this negative stereotyping about this specialty which I had to change it with what I learned and I saw myself. No, now today, everybody asked me, I want to do your specialty.
So this is the one thing, just sometimes ignore what others could push you to change your passion. So that don't let their experience sidetrack you. Let your passion, talents, curiosity, and aspiration, life mission drive your schooling and career.
And the second advice is really in this very competitive world, you really have to develop a strong skill set to set yourself apart from other candidates. We are not, and I always tell this to parents, your kids are [ARABIC].
We are really competitive world. You to have to distinguish yourself. Having a university degree would not make you stand out like what it used to be 20, 30 years ago.
You really have to make yourself stand out to be competitive for now with the globalization. It's easy for anybody to get the job because it's not all you, there is an entire world applying to this job. And now, it's all this online opportunities we have.
And the third one is just don't be afraid to stand up for yourself. I mean, what's the worst can happen? I always ask me, what is the worst can happen? If nobody will die, that's it. [ARABIC]. If nobody will die, I think it's always worth to stand up and say something or do something if you think there is something wrong.
OMAIMA BAMASAQ: I would actually go back to the first topic that we discussed. It's about the characteristics of the leader being flexible, resilient and vulnerable. So in my point-of-view, these are the three main characteristics that a leader has to embrace to have a successful path, whether it is in STEM or other discipline.
And women, in nature, have this innate. We are flexible, and we listen. We have empathy. We adapt to the situation. And we actually--
Our own life is about challenges since our childhood. So we are born and we are raised up to face the challenges and to accept them. And we are not supposed to be not afraid of saying that we don't know.
And we learn from our mistakes. And we are upfront to all the new positions, job, challenges that we may have. So this is my advice. Just to sum up the characteristics and the three points that I just mentioned.
JAWAHER ALMUTLAQ: Thank you so much, and thank you for the insightful discussion. Now, we're going to start the Q&A session if you could answer our listeners' questions. Some questions were already answered, but I will share some questions like, OK, so someone is asking, "Should I have the leadership skills in order to be successful for someone who doesn't like leadership roles? They're just excellent insights into research."
HALEEMA ALAMRI: I can relate to that question so I might start here. So as I mentioned previously, if you know that you want to be a scientist, then that's your long-term goal, for example. So your goal is at least clear for you.
And that's your passion, and that's what you want to do. So you can definitely pursue this career from this perspective, and there is no push whatsoever to move you to other tracks, for example, to be a leader or-- it's definitely your choice. As long as you're comfortable about this choice and you know exactly that this is what you want to do, you should be really pursuing it with all your energy and positive attitude, because it sometimes seems that people who are conscience versus people who are leaders in a managerial positions are looked at differently.
But this really doesn't mean anything. What it boils down to-- what do you want exactly to do and achieve on your career? And there is a lot of great scientists who made a huge difference in the world, and they've never been in a significant leadership position. So it's all up to what you exactly really want to do and how do you choose your career path from the perspective that's really suits you personally.
JAWAHER ALMUTLAQ: Interesting. Does anyone want to add anything to answer the question?
SUMAYA AL-SOLAIMAN: Maybe I'll just add here that when we think about leadership, it's not about necessarily the position itself, a title that you get, but I think it's more about qualities that you might have. So a leader might take initiative. So you're working as a scientist, you will have to take the initiative to display that, or let's say you're working with a team. How do you manage a team of conflicting ideas within your work?
So I think of leadership more in relation to, let's say, skills, but not the title that might come with it. I think once you display leadership qualities, you might be potentially asked to take a leadership role. But I think having the clarity to say this isn't for you, then maybe that's enough. But leadership qualities will serve, I think, even in life, in general.
So I don't think it's something to fear, but rather to embrace and maybe expand on.
JAWAHER ALMUTLAQ: Indeed so leadership is not only about titles, but also about the skills. Interesting. So second question is, how did you support your fellow female scientists, young students in the field? Did you compete due to the scarce opportunities to pioneer a local field or build a supportive collaborative environment?
MALAK ALTHAGAFI: I'll take this question. I think that one of the important point I stressed on during the talk building your-- be collaborative, and especially when it comes to woman. I think we are women in STEAM or STEM, where we still not a lot of us in a leadership position or in a senior position. So this is our role to work together and to collaborate and take that hand.
There is many things we do are starting from student in their ninth grade until a postgraduate student, and fellows, and resident. We can help. There is limited resources definitely, and it's not easy to do research like before with limited funding.
But I think by trying to take on your shoulder to your-- who's coming after me-- this is always at least what I do to myself. What in my time in this life? How many people or how many girls or boys I'm going to train to be the next leaders and next leader? And how is any of them, they would train the next. This is what I want to say.
JAWAHER ALMUTLAQ: Interesting. Thank you.
SUMAYA AL-SOLAIMAN: To add to that, I think when it comes to opportunities, they may seem scarce, but I think now more than ever, if you're willing to put in the work, the opportunities are abundant. I think being-- from my former work in academia, I think it was much easier perhaps to help others maybe see the potential within themselves.
Then it becomes a matter of-- we're not-- we may talk about leadership positions, but we're not on the ultimate top. Basically, we're somewhere in the middle. So it means then how can you make those who are just under you more visible to the ones who are just above you, really showcasing, say, skills, creating opportunities where maybe previously there weren't any. Making sure that, I think, having right succession plan, because once you get to a certain position, you cannot move up until somebody fills your position.
And do you actually qualify others to do that? And for me I think mentorship is an extremely important aspect to it. So having people that you constantly talk to where you give friendly advice, may be helping steer the way to some extent just showing them their potential. All of these are things that really do help others to get to the next level.
And I think if we keep thinking that the leadership positions are minimal or there's not enough places, I think that the reality of it is completely different. There are so many areas that need qualified people who are committed to do the work. Maybe the pie stays the same, but the roles become smaller. But it just means that we have more potential to succeed together and having that kind of team spirit definitely helps.
JAWAHER ALMUTLAQ: Interesting. Regarding what-- good ahead please.
HALEEMA ALAMRI: I just want [INAUDIBLE] one elements here. I think it depends as well on which domain each person is working on. It seems sometimes natural, especially in our culture in universities for female to progress faster in academia, for example, because it's a female university, for example. So the opportunities is equal. And you might find some competition sometimes in the companies or in areas where there's few women, and I think that might be the question where is it coming from.
But I think it also depends on really how much do you-- when you progress in your career, how much are you willing to give back to whoever wants to be really taking this path and wherever your are working. And I think that's where it gets challenging, and people start looking as a competition to it more than a collaborative effort to [INAUDIBLE], for example, female scientists on the pipeline.
So I think as a leader on those positions, it really make a difference if a female leader really mentors and pave the way for other scientists to really learn at least the culture around different working environments, and how it should be navigated. You might find sometimes really very successful female scientists, but not really being aware of different way of doing things. And communication skills is really key sometimes.
So the mentoring part is really key, and looking for the right people to help support navigating the culture of the place and learning the norms and how to navigate is really another way of doing it. But definitely, giving people opportunities and giving them visibility is really key for any leaders who want really to-- and delegation as Dr. Malak mentioned before. If you learn how to delegate, you grow because you'll have more time to do important things. And you give the youngest people opportunities to learn under your supervision so they can support you and help you really move forward with whatever task you're doing. So the mindset of looking at things is really making a difference definitely.
JAWAHER ALMUTLAQ: Thank you. I remember once I was in a talk with former minister Adil Naim who mentioned something like the best way to get promoted is to make your current boss looks good.
OMAIMA BAMASAQ: Yes.
JAWAHER ALMUTLAQ: So I definitely can relate. Dr. Omaima, you have something to share?
OMAIMA BAMASAQ: Yes. I would add the current shift in culture in Saudi Arabia, and with the vision 2030, a lot of opportunities has been created for a woman that has not been existed before. We could say that how the shift has affected the workplace now and five years ago, for example. It wasn't that far, but now it is normal that you would see woman in jobs and in places that you wouldn't be seeing them five years ago or 10 years ago.
So the whole scheme, cultural, government-- they're all supporting women now in taking roles and leadership positions, and even higher in the ministries. That we have seen-- even the Shura council, it was all male dominant, and then gradually the number of female participants are increasing, and even in the ministry roles as well. So we are really blessed to be in this area where-- or in this era where the support of women, it's flourishing actually in the kingdom.
And one example of this is, as I recall, in the cybersecurity forum last year where the the crown prince, Prince Hamad bin Salman, has announced his two initiatives. One of them is to support to women in cybersecurity. So we are really glad and blessed to have such a support from the higher up in the government and the kingdom for women to take such leads.
I would also add to Dr. Sumaya's point in mentoring. In my perspective, mentoring is one of a crucial element in opening up opportunities for women. So mentoring, building a scheme around mentoring in terms of research or in terms of leadership, transferring knowledge, and building capacity for the second-- let's say, the second admin so they could actually progress toward
Leadership. And as Jawaher had mentioned, I remember one of the notes that you have to be, or you are ready to be promoted whenever a successor is ready to take your place. As long as you are there and you show that there is no one would be enough for your place, you will not be promoted. So this is the importance of mentoring and taking the hands of the people and teaching them so they grow and you will grow as well.
JAWAHER ALMUTLAQ: Thank you so much. So there is a question how this kind of work affects your social life as a woman. Is there any trade off or compensation you have to make as a woman in the leadership position.
OMAIMA BAMASAQ: I think work life balance is a myth that does exist it is actually very hard, to be honest, to be full time at work and to be full time at home and raise children and take care of the family. So it is very important to have a supporting scheme at home so that your family would help you, support you, and also you will actually support them in the sense that when you are successful, then this will be the reflected back to them. So actually we try our best to achieve this balance whether we succeed at sometimes, we fail the other, but we are hoping that we are doing good, inshallah.
HALEEMA ALAMRI: And I think I see this from a different perspective. Being a mother to two kids really-- from an early stage, I learned a lot of team skills, basically, so how to be extremely organized so I can use my time effectively. And so--
HALEEMA ALAMRI: --and I just don't look at it. I think it's-- how did you look at it? As a problem or as-- for me, it enhances a lot of skills even before I even realized. When I was doing my PhD, my kids were really younger. But I was really effective around how I organized my time and their time, and I learned these skills from an early stage, because I had to deal with them [INAUDIBLE] well.
So I took it positively. I had-- I was forced to learn skills that other colleagues didn't have to. So they would spend their life in the lab. And I was very extremely, yanni alhumdullilah, efficient and effective. So looking at the situation from a positive mindset would definitely help instead of looking at it as a very stressful situation.
You definitely learned a lot of skills to navigate your team in the home, and then just apply those skills at work. I think especially in allhumduillah in Saudia we have a really very supporting system. Our family is extremely supportive. There is a lot of day cares and schools that offer us after school activities if you have to stay late or whatever. It definitely put the pressure on you as a female who have to be-- we always put this guilt element on ourselves.
So if I spend more time on the lab, I feel guilty because my kids are taking more time on the after school activities. We know they're happy. They're doing good activities. They are learning something good. So I think just get rid of this thinking around these areas, and you will be-- you witness a lot of successful female leaders and we navigate fine. So do not put this as a very strong element that might hinder your progress.
JAWAHER ALMUTLAQ: Thank you so much Dr. Haleema. So, we'll go to our next question. How did you deal with the publisher pressure as a young researcher? So maybe anyone in academia can feel the pressure of publishing. Is this still hard in Saudi Arabia? How do you deal with it?
HALEEMA ALAMRI: I don't want to speak too much, but I think that's a continuous pressure that's you can never get rid of the yanni. It's a fact. It's just one of the area where we say there's a lot of uncertainty. So if you're looking into a new field of science, definitely there would be huge pressure on you, but definitely knowing that we have the right skills, you didn't reach this level without having the right tools to navigate.
So just keep doing that I things and keep pursuing good goals. And I think a big element to that as well is there is nothing called good results and bad results. It's all results, and all will give you some insights. Even the results that's not really positive in your perspective, it would and it might add a lot of perspective to scientific community.
So I think that goes back to that idea when I wanted to produce this chemical compounds or whatever, but along the way I might discover something completely different and something even more interesting. So just trust your skills and keep doing your science, and stay closely in touch with your supervisors and your colleagues, and take continuous feedback so if there is a continuous correction, that can take place, but definitely do not feel that because it's an ambiguous or it's uncertain area for you that you're working on, it would be a failure. I definitely did a lot of things that seems at the beginning very strange and no one really was willing to support, but then it turns out to be a very interesting results that was really worth publishing. So that's my perspective yanni the way I dealt with it.
JAWAHER ALMUTLAQ: Interesting. Thank you for sharing. So this is the end of our webinar beyond the ordinary careers in STEAM. Thank you to our speakers, and thank you Dorothy and Nadiya for organizing this talk. And thank you to Professor Kamal for being with us here today.
Finally, thank you all in the audience for being here and sharing your questions with us. We have more webinars planned this Fall. You can find information at ibk.mit.edu or on our Twitter. Have a good evening.
HALEEMA ALAMRI: Thank you so much yatik al afieh. Thank you.
Webinar Date: Date: Wednesday, November 4, 2020, 12:00 - 1:30p EST/ 8:00 - 9:30p KSA