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An Ode to Arab Women in STEM

Author: Hania Tayara

It comes as little surprise that I chose to join Native Scientists. My dream is to help create a world where science is not only a product of academic excellence, but also of love and community. 

I was introduced to Native Scientists by my dear friend Lara Alzouabi who was the first and only Arabic coordinator at the time. Lara organised science outreach workshops in Arabic for Syrian migrant children in Paris. Native Scientists were looking for someone to do the same in London and I felt that was me. 

I’m a Palestinian Syrian who grew up in Damascus and moved to the UK in 2012 because of the Syrian uprising and subsequent civil war. However, because I’m a British citizen, I didn’t come here as a refugee, despite the fact that my family and I were indeed seeking safety when we moved. Leaving home was a painful experience, especially with the knowledge of what we left behind. Despite this, my citizenship status and connection to the UK came with privileges not granted to the majority of my community who come here for the same reasons. Since moving to the UK, I earned a chemistry degree from Imperial College London and an Msc degree in Science, Technology, and Society from UCL. I later combined my cultural heritage and my vocation and decided to work in science communication for social justice and equitable public engagement. I know that many talented people from refugee and asylum seeking communities are not given the same chances to pursue their vocations, and too often are being subjected to ever increasing levels of hostility as they rebuild their lives away from home. These are truths I hold very close to my heart. For this reason, after two years volunteering with Native Scientists to organise science workshops in Arabic for my community, I was thrilled to join as a Programme Lead and focus my efforts full time on working with and for Arabic-speaking communities across Europe - primarily to engage refugee and asylum seeking students with science. 

My story is one that is told many times, which is why I’m unsurprised, yet still very proud, that we’ve now grown to an Arabic team of seven. We’re a group of Arab women in STEM from all over the Arabic-speaking world. Through our lived experiences, our identities, and our scientific backgrounds, we bring an intersectional lens to science communication for social justice. The scientific diversity in our areas of expertise mirrors the diversity of our cultures across the countries we come from. Yet, at Native Scientists we’re united by language, heritage, and a love for sharing science with our communities. 

In a beautiful example of circular education, some of the past volunteer scientists at workshops I organised are now stepping into my previous role as Arabic coordinators. We often speak about the benefits of our work at Native Scientists for children, but we less often highlight the joy and camaraderie felt amongst the migrant scientists who share science, language, culture, and heritage. Working with our communities to foster scientific curiosity in the next generation creates a network of mutual aid and an ethic of care that we all benefit from in the broader scientific community and beyond. 

I’m so excited to see where the next year takes us, but everything we’ve achieved and yet to achieve is not possible without the brilliant past and present Arabic coordinators who have committed their time and expertise to our shared goals, so I’d like to share a bit more about each of them below:

Lara Alzouabi:

Lara was the coordinator for Arabic in Paris when she was a PhD student working on cancer and stem cells at the Curie Institute. After the PhD, Lara decided to continue her pursuit of knowledge in medical school. Having grown up bilingual in London in a Syrian household, Lara has always been fascinated by the opportunities learning languages can offer, so much so that she is currently studying medicine in French. Her dream is to be a polyglot doctor who also takes part in scientific research. Lara has always had a special place in her heart for her native language Arabic therefore she was very keen on sharing this passion through the lens of her other passion: science!

Houda Haidar:

Houda is an astrophysicist with a passion for exploring supermassive black holes in space. Born and raised in Morocco, her early fascination with the sky sparked a lifelong passion for astronomy, leading her to pursue a career in this field against all odds. Today, Houda is not only deepening her understanding of the universe as a PhD researcher at Newcastle University, but also actively aims to support under-represented kids in their pursuit of STEM education. Her academic path is distinguished by her Masters degree from Observatoire de Paris in France and her Bachelors from Queen Mary University in London

Saryah Alhejazi:

Saryah is a doctor who was born in London and grew up in a Jordanian household, which allowed her to become fluent in both Arabic and English. She has always had a passion for science and has spent 9 years in education, having completed her postgraduate medical degree at the University of Manchester, along with a bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Science and a master's in Clinical Neuroscience from University College London. Saryah is deeply committed to healthcare, with a special focus on refugee health and providing free healthcare access. She collaborates with the University of San Diego's Displacement & Health research lab and harbours a strong passion for teaching, eager to share her knowledge and experiences with others in the field. Post foundation training, Saryah aims to pursue an academic surgical career, with a particular interest in neurosurgery, fueled by her experience and research.

Reham Aldakhil:

Reham started her career as a pharmacist, driven by a passion for healthcare. Inspired by the great Arab scholars Ibn Sina and Ibn Nafis, she chose pharmacy to directly impact patient care. Currently, she is pursuing her PhD at Imperial College London in the Global Digital Health Unit. Her journey from pharmacy to healthcare informatics and digital health reflects her ultimate goal: to enhance healthcare delivery through technology. She finds it incredibly rewarding to see how her work contributes to this vital and humanitarian field.

Bana Shriky:

Bana is a researcher at the University of Bradford. She studies the structure-property relationship of polymeric soft matter in different environments. Bana’s career path is less than conventional with multiple u-turns, but the only thing that always remained constant is her passion for science. She grew up in the Middle East, one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse regions in the world. The region's rich scientific history, bridging the east and west, has greatly influenced her identity as an Arabic scientist, fuelling her constant efforts to decolonise science, create an inclusive environment, and inspire the next generation to unapologetically embrace their cultural identity.

Dana Alsugeir:

Dana is a pharmacist from Saudi Arabia. She chose pharmacy because she wanted to improve the health of her community. She is currently doing a PhD examining side effects of medicines used in women’s mental health. Dana joined Native Scientists because she has a passion for science and sharing it with young minds, and especially loves to promote it amongst Arabic-speaking children to make sure they meet role models in STEM that look and speak like them.

Lara Houchou:

Lara is a storyteller and engagement specialist with experience in strategic communication. An onion DNA extraction in middle school led Lara to pursue a Master's degree in Biomedical Sciences at University College London, undertaking research around ageing - where a lot of flies were involved. Since then, she has been working and organising science communication workshops. Harnessing curiosity and play, she is passionate about connecting people and ideas, from breaking down complex biological concepts into visual bedtime stories to working with artists and patient groups to hosting an art exhibition for disease awareness. She currently works as an engagement specialist in a health tech start-up. In addition, she helps run creative writing workshops and cultural and science events for kids and adults. Lara is Lebanese and joined Native Scientists as an Arabic coordinator in London. This was driven by her love for science and belief in the power of education and curiosity to transform lives. She is motivated by the desire to build and strengthen communities by bringing together kids, scientists, and educators from Arabic-speaking backgrounds to create support networks and conversations that extend beyond the classroom.

If you’d like to find out more about these inspiring role models and the work we’re doing at Native Scientists, follow our social media accounts to stay up to date! 

If you’re inspired by our work and would like to support us, you can make a donation to the Same Migrant Community Programme here

If you’d like to donate directly to the Arabic workshops, please use this guide


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