STEMM PROFILE: Dr Fatima El-Assaad | Senior Research Associate | UNSW Australia | Sydney | NSW

Dr Fatima El-Assaad [Image: UNSW Australia]

“I would restructure the entrenched patriarchal frameworks within academia and research to enable a fairer trajectory for females”

Dr Fatima El-Assaad is a Senior Research Associate at UNSW Australia and coordinates all research activity, research strategy, communications and interactions with various stakeholders.

Fatima graduated with First Class Honours in Medical Science and was awarded her PhD in Medicine in 2013 from The University of Sydney for her research into brain injury in malaria. Her work was the first demonstration that plasma microparticles previously thought to be inert remnants of cell membrane are in fact active contributors to the microvascular lesions that cause brain injury in malaria.

In 2014, Fatima moved to UNSW Australia to join the Department of Immunology, Infectious Disease and Sexual Health at the St George and Sutherland Clinical School and St George Hospital. She is currently developing biomarker tests for the early detection of infectious diseases, particularly malaria and sepsis, as well as designing new-targeted treatments that have potential for revolutionising personalised medicine.

Fatima was the Vice Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow at UNSW Australia in the field of infection and immunity from 2015 to 2017. She was a committee member of the NSW Early-to-Mid Career Researcher (EMCR) Network as she is passionate about the dissemination of innovative academic and commercial research and believes that these two sectors need better communication to drive translation and enable the permeation of top EMCRs from academia into industry. She is also passionate about inspiring young women into considering a career in science and is a mentor for the UNSW Science 50:50 initiative. Fatima also served as a committee member of the NSW Branch of the Australian Society of Immunology and the Australian Society for Medical Research.

What is one thing you would change to improve the gender balance in senior ranks of scientists?

It is a shame that we lose those exceptional female scientists that give up at junior levels way before achieving their full potential as a senior scientist. It is really exciting to see that there is this push to change attitudes and add the tokenistic female on a board or to mandate a minimum number of females to be recruited to senior ranks but I see these as very superficial solutions to archaic rigidity. I would restructure the entrenched patriarchal frameworks within academia and research to enable a fairer trajectory for females.

How can we best support the next generation of women scientists?

By normalising care-taking responsibilities. Both male and female scientists need to accept and accommodate for those who have them, rather than penalise them. It is possible that education and awareness will slowly change these attitudes.

If at times your confidence is a little shaky, where do you turn?

I think it is pretty easy to feel imposter syndrome at most stages of your academic life. I try to imbue confidence in my work by doing the best that I possibly can in the situation I am in, being comfortable with making mistakes and learning from those around me, regardless of what stage of career they are at.

What inspired you to science? Have you always liked science? What do you love most about science?

I love science! However, this interest is not limited to my field, which makes it a little hard to focus sometimes. I’m constantly blown way by how much we don’t know and how scientists have very clever ways of trying to find out.

If you could give one piece of advice to the current government what would it be?

Scientific research is a powerful investment for a sustainable future. Make it a priority. The brightest minds drive scientific discovery and innovation underpinning Australia’s economic growth. More government support is needed from primary school education right through to basic science and medical research at the university level.

LinkedIn: Fatima El-Asaad

Twitter: @Fatima_elAssaad

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