Spotlight | Hind Almerekhi
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Spotlight | Hind Almerekhi

A Success Story of Women in Science in Qatar

From the discovery of radium and polonium by Marie Curie to the various women who helped land the first man on the moon, and more recently Özlem Türeci, who participated in developing the first approved messenger RNA-based vaccine against COVID; women in science have long played crucial and breakthrough roles in various fields of science. Women represent half of the global population and therefore hold half of the potential we need to achieve our development and progress goals. However, it is alarming that only around 30 percent of women make up the global research community.

Keeping this in mind, there has been a push for increased participation of girls in STEM education and to raise more awareness, 11 February is annually celebrated as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. In the Middle East, women represent around 50 percent of the total student STEM population, which is higher than the average for the US and Europe. While this is hopeful, more needs to be done to increase women's representation in STEM professions and make them a more effective force in the overall economic, technological, and social development.

We sat down with Hind Almerekhi, a participant in Qatar National Research Fund’s (QNRF) Qatar Research Leadership Program (QRLP) who is pursuing her PhD at Hamad Bin Khalifa University in computer science and engineering. Read her interview below to learn about her journey as a woman in science and hear from her about what more needs to be done to explore the potential of women in science.

  1. How did you get interested in science and what motivated you to pursue a career in scientific research?

My interest in science and research was piqued during my last years in university. At the time, my senior project supervisor suggested that our group apply for a QNRF’s Undergraduate Research Experience Program (UREP) to motivate us towards research and encourage us to participate in the first Microsoft Imagine Cup in Qatar in 2012, which introduced me to several talented individuals and researchers. This pushed me to do my best in every aspect of my academic career. As soon as I graduated from Qatar University, I decided that I wanted to expand my knowledge in the field of computing and learn more. To achieve this, I joined the QRLP program offered by QNRF to continue my higher education.

  1. How is the experience being a woman scientist/researcher overall, and in Qatar? How do you view the presence of women in sciences and its importance?

Overall, I would say that my experience has been extremely rewarding. The opportunity that I was given by QNRF to further my higher education taught me about the challenges that researchers go through to get their work recognized. Despite these challenges, I learned that in research, persistence always prevails especially when the competition gets tougher to produce high-quality research.

In my field of data science, women scientists are viewed highly within the community since some of them are regarded as pioneers in their respected areas of expertise. In 2015, Stanford University held a workshop for women in data science, which spawned a full-fledged community of women in data science from all over the globe. I was given the opportunity to share my research in the local chapter of Arab Women in Computing (ArabWiC) in Qatar and felt the importance of the role being played by women in Qatar’s local computing community.

  1. What QNRF-funded programs have you participated in and can you discuss their contribution to your education and career?

While pursuing my bachelor’s degree in 2011, my senior project team applied for QNRF’s UREP grant and was selected in 2012. This program allowed us to get the necessary equipment to deploy and test our learning platform, LingoSnacks. The UREP award also helped us publish three conference papers that discuss the process of building and testing LingoSnacks, as a game-based micro-learning platform for learning languages.

Currently, I am a recipient of a scholarship under the QRLP-Graduate Sponsorship Research Award program. This scholarship helped me get my master’s degree in computing from Qatar University in 2016 and enabled me to publish my thesis on building test collections for event detection in a top-tier conference. QNRF graciously extended my scholarship so that I can earn my doctoral degree and solidify my research experience in the field of data science, with a focus on detecting online hate and toxicity.

  1. How is Qatar helping its local researchers and scientists and how do you view the local landscape for knowledge and research Qatar?

Qatar is helping local scientists and researchers by offering them opportunities to join reputable research institutions like QEERI, QCRI, and QBRI in addition to the different funding programs local scientists and researchers can apply to through QNRF. Over the years, I have seen all the institutions and programs grow to motivate scientists into joining them. For instance, QNRF launched more funding programs like the Postdoctoral Research Award (PDRA) to fund recent PhD graduates with their pursuit of an independent research career. This valuable addition to the funding programs shows how important it is for QNRF to help scientists establish their careers at an early stage and support their endeavors.

  1. Any message or advice for budding scientists and researchers, and young girls who like you want to pursue a career in sciences and technology?

The myriad of online resources that can be found nowadays is astonishing, and I advise any aspiring individual to leverage these tools to discover what they are passionate about. I genuinely believe that passion fuels success, so it is especially important for budding scientists to go through this journey of discovery to find the area in science or technology that piques their interest and ignites their passion for knowledge.

As for women who are interested in becoming scientists, I advise them to stay persistent and focused. Women scientists are extremely valued in research and academic institutes, so there is always a place for women to show their skills and abilities to contribute to Qatar’s development, prosperity, and knowledge-production as envisaged in Qatar National Vision 2030.

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