STEMM Profile: Cut Aja Fauziah | PhD Student in Petroleum Engineering | Curtin University | Perth | WA

“Women often receive ‘stereotype threat’ in STEMM fields, such a society and system that still assume that women have less skill sets, so that the women are hesitant to enter such fields, and they have to deal with the negativity and bias from their workplaces. Especially the women from minority groups are even doubly subjected to variances of bias and discriminatory behaviour”

Before graduating a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from the University of Syiah Kuala, Aceh-Indonesia, Cut Aja Fauziah was involved in assisting in the humanitarian tsunami emergency and subsequent recovery efforts. She has been involved in several community-based projects, which builds capacity and assists community members regarding psychosocial and gender-based violence issues. This story was started when Aceh – Indonesia (her hometown) was hit by a tremendous earthquake and tsunami in 2004. Those disasters, and the political conflicts that preceded it have touched her deeply and inspired her to help the community.

On the surface, it might appear odd that her formal undergraduate education in chemistry would eventually lead a career as the humanitarian worker. However, it does not sound surprising that she has chosen a different career path, which has brought where she is right now. She understood that Aceh certainly demands to rebuild its human capacity and to cover the loss since hundreds of thousands of people had lost their lives or been missing due to the tsunami. This motivated her to pursue a master’s degree in metallurgical engineering at the Western Australian School of Mines (WASM), Curtin University, Australia, under the scholarship of the Indonesian government. Right after graduating, Cut Aja was employed at her alma mater, the University of Syiah Kuala, as a lecturer. She fully realised that the future goal will require her to pursue higher education.

Currently, she is enrolled as a PhD student in petroleum engineering at Curtin University with a scholarship from the ministry of finance of the Republic of Indonesia. Her research focus is on the wettability of CO2/brine/mineral/rocks system, with the implication of the research is related to the flow of CO2 and its entrapment in the subsurface formations for CO2 geological storage and fluid spreading and dynamics in the reservoir for CO2 injection of methane recovery. She is expecting to graduate in October 2020, and pursuing her dream future career in collaboration between industry and academia.

What inspired you to do science? Have you always liked STEMM?

My father was a math teacher. As a child, I enjoyed learning mathematics, chemistry, biology and physics. I enjoyed finding out how to solve the questions about calculations and liked to know how things work. This has influenced me when I had to decide for study and until now, science and engineering have been sensible choices for me. I realise that studying and working in STEMM means learning something related to the world around us and that we can find innovative solutions to real-word challenges.

What are you favourite past-time or hobbies?

Doing workouts/sport (especially gym/fitness) and dancing are my favourite hobbies. I enjoy doing these activities in my free time with passion, commitment and joy. Workouts make me happy and healthy, and increase my energy levels. They involve a lot of physical exercises and activities, with good physical and mental benefits. I have been learning and performed dancing on various occasions since I was in high school. Dance is an art, which involves intense and rigorous preparation of body and mind; and it keeps my body active and alert.

Do you have a mentor(s)? What is the most crucial aspect of your professional relationship?

Yes, I have mentors. Mentoring programs, such as the IMNIS program, help me strengthen the implicit skills that can be applied in professional workplaces or even in daily life. Communication is the most crucial aspect of professional relationship. Effective communication can lead to extended professional networks.

How do you cope with self‐doubt? How do you cope with imposter syndrome?

It took me a long time to overcome self-doubt and build self-confidence. I remember one mantra “If not you, then who?”. If you do not try to overcome this yourself, then no one will do for you. What I do is that I imagine my success, take a big long breath, and then take action and just do it. In this case, having the courage to take action is the key factor, the more you act with it, the more courageous you become.

How do you cope with imposter syndrome?

Respect your own ability and experience, and stop comparing yourself to other people.

What is the biggest challenge to women pursuing a career in the STEMM sector?

Stereotype threat is the biggest challenge. Women often receive ‘stereotype threat’ in STEMM fields, such a society and system that still assume that women have less skill sets, so that the women are hesitant to enter such fields, and they have to deal with the negativity and bias from their workplaces. Especially the women from minority groups are even doubly subjected to variances of bias and discriminatory behaviour.

LinkedIn: Cut Aja Fauziah

Twitter: @ajafauziah


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