“I want to demonstrate the boundless possibilities for women in science” - Minaa Sohail

By Wallia Khairi
Tue, 04, 24

This week You! is in conversation with Minaa Sohail, a bright mind in the field of STEM…

“I want to demonstrate the boundless possibilities for women in science” - Minaa Sohail

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Women in STEM are breaking barriers and defying stereotypes, paving the way for future generations. Their contributions to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are invaluable, driving innovation and progress. Minaa Sohail is one such woman, who is currently pursuing her MS journey in Nanoscience Engineering at NUST, with an undergrad in Environmental Engineering from the University of Peshawar. Raised in the vibrant city of Peshawar, KPK, her childhood was a whirlwind of curiosity along with a family tree adorned with academic gems. Her dad a computer science guru and her aunts branching into medicine, politics, economics, and statistics - Minaa was destined for greatness in the era when education wasn’t all the rage.

In her early academic days, physics lit up her world, with black holes and space dimensions dancing in her dreams. Initially eyeing the medical scene, she quickly realised biology wasn’t her jam. Cue the switch to mathematics and a leap into the unknown.

Now, in her pursuit of higher education, Minaa’s blazing a trail in atomic and nuclear energy. With a slight detour in her major, she’s on a mission to explore this electrifying domain. “As I embark on this path, I eagerly anticipate the opportunity to pursue a PhD and contribute to the scientific community with my own ground-breaking work. With fingers crossed, I remain hopeful for the future and the potential impact of my research endeavours,” shares Minaa. In an exclusive interview with You!, Minaa shares her passion for science. Read on…

You! How did your family support or encourage your interest in science?

Minaa Sohail: My father has always respected my decisions and given me the freedom to choose my path and providing me support and guidance, as he was my first mentor, teaching me essential skills in DOS, Microsoft, and other programmes. My mother, equally amazing, has sacrificed her own plans to provide me with unwavering support during exams.

You! Can you describe your transition from academic studies to your first professional role in the field of science?

MS: My transition from academia to my first professional role in science was exhilarating yet challenging. With honed theoretical knowledge and practical skills, I eagerly applied my learning in real-world settings. Collaborating with colleagues, conducting experiments, and contributing to research projects allowed me to see the direct impact of my work on scientific advancements.

“I want to demonstrate the boundless possibilities for women in science” - Minaa Sohail

You! Have you received any recognition or awards for your work?

MS: I’ve authored two publications as the primary author in esteemed scientific journals, showcasing my contributions to the field. Additionally, participating in Hackathon 2020 was a pivotal experience. Moreover, throughout my academic journey, collaborating closely with various researchers has enriched my knowledge and skills, contributing significantly to my growth as a more competent individual.

You! Have you had mentors in your career, and how have they influenced your professional development in science?

MS: My university supervisors and instructors significantly contributed to my professional growth. One memorable experience involves Dr Rashid Miandad, a professor who enrolled me in a provincial hackathon just before the onset of COVID-19. Despite my initial lack of knowledge about hackathons, particularly on disaster management, I participated and emerged as the contest’s winner. Organised by UNDP, this competition not only enhanced my understanding of disaster management but also sharpened my business acumen, presentation abilities, teamwork, and communication skills. Collaborating with scientists from diverse backgrounds, we clinched the first prize at a provincial level. Additionally, I was awarded a grant of PKR 200,000 as a result of my success.

You! Are there ongoing sources of motivation that fuel your passion for scientific exploration?

MS: A scientific paper a day keeps the inspiration ablaze. Witnessing fellow scientists and colleagues achieve remarkable feats ignites a fire within, driving me towards my own scientific wonders.

You! Were there any women in science who inspired you?

MS: Marie Curie’s ground-breaking work in radioactivity and her resilience in the face of gender discrimination inspire me deeply. I aim to embody her dedication to scientific inquiry and her determination to overcome obstacles in the field.

You! Have you faced any specific challenges in pursuing your education and training in the field of science, particularly as a woman?

MS: Despite my family’s support, I encountered many male colleagues who held traditional views about women’s roles. Occasionally, I still clash with men who attribute my achievements, such as winning a gold medal or earning high grades, to gender favouritism. I’ve encountered instances of gender bias in my workplace, such as being overlooked for leadership roles or having my ideas dismissed in meetings. In response, I addressed these situations by advocating for myself assertively, highlighting my qualifications and contributions.

You! How are you actively involved in promoting STEM education and awareness, particularly for women, in Pakistan?

“I want to demonstrate the boundless possibilities for women in science” - Minaa Sohail

MS: I actively promote STEM education and awareness, particularly for women, in Pakistan through mentoring, outreach programmes, and advocacy. By sharing my experiences and advocating for gender equality, I aim to empower the next generation of women to pursue their passions in science. I want to demonstrate the boundless possibilities for women in science.

You! What changes are needed to reduce gender disparities and create a more inclusive environment for women in science?

MS: We need societal and institutional changes. Firstly, promote gender equality through awareness campaigns and educational programmes to challenge stereotypes. Secondly, implement policies ensuring equal opportunities like gender-neutral recruitment. Additionally, provide mentorship and support networks for women in science. Lastly, create flexible work arrangements and childcare support for better work-life balance.

You! Did you ever have moments of doubt or hesitation in pursuing a career in science, and how did you overcome them?

MS: Questioning my abilities and path was natural, but I overcame these challenges by reminding myself of my passion for science and its potential impact. Support from mentors, family, and friends encouraged me, and self-reflection helped build confidence through continuous learning.

You! A piece of advice that has had a lasting impact on your career?

MS: During my school days, I encountered difficulty understanding an antigen/antibody problem. Despite persistent questioning, I sensed my classmates growing visibly frustrated with me. Near the end of the 40-minute period, feeling embarrassed, I pretended to grasp the concept to avoid further discomfort. However, my subject teacher approached me, offering reassurance with a pat on the shoulder and wise words, “Never stop seeking understanding for those who won’t celebrate your achievements. Stay true to yourself.”

You! What advice would you give to young women aspiring to pursue a career in science?

MS: Embrace challenges, surround yourself with mentors, trust in your abilities, and never underestimate the power of your dreams.