STEMM Profile: Sidra Waheed | Chemical Scientist | ARC Centre of Excellence in Electromaterials | The University of Tasmania | Hobart | TAS

Dr Sidra Waheed is a chemical scientist in the multidisciplinary field of analytical and manufacturing science, specifically in the area of microfluidics and 3D printing [photo: S. Waheed, provided]

“Imposter syndrome is real, and it really hits hard and it can stop you achieving your best. When I experience this, I usually surround myself with the people who believe in me, who have faith in me and this motivates me – I can do it!”

Dr Sidra Waheed was born in regional Attock, Pakistan where she completed high school. With the support of her parents, she moved to the metropolitan city of Lahore to earn her Bachelor of Science (Hons) degree and then her Master’s degree. In 2015, she married and in the same year received a PhD scholarship in Chemical Sciences from The University of Tasmania, Australia. Sidra decided to pursue her PhD, but this decision met with resistance, as pursuing a career after marriage is considered unusual in her culture.

During her PhD, Sidra faced several cultural and psychological barriers. Her husband’s visa refusal was amongst them, yet despite this, Sidra and her husband decided she should continue her PhD. With resilience, persistence and patience, and with the support of her supervisors and partner, Sidra recently completed her PhD in Chemical Sciences.

Through her PhD research, Sidra has the opportunity to work with a diverse group of experts in analytical and material chemistry. She has been working in the multidisciplinary field of analytical and manufacturing science, specifically in the area of microfluidics and 3D printing.

Her research focuses on the fabrication of novel composite material and their subsequent 3D printing to develop functional micro-analytical devices and sensors. In this highly competitive area, her work is already gaining significant attention from international researchers in the field, and end-users of 3D printed materials. Dr Waheed has also been the lead author of several peer-review publications in the area of materials science and analytical chemistry. One of her articles is the most cited article in the field of chemistry which indicate her research is creating impact in the field.

Sidra has presented her research findings at various international conferences within and outside Australia. She was also honoured to receive a “Young Scientist Award” in France in recognition of her research contributions.

Today I really feel proud for breaking the glass ceiling and I having a PhD degree which gives me a great sense of achievement.

What has been the biggest barrier you have faced in your career and how did you overcome it?

The greatest barrier which I faced during my career was the visa refusal of my husband. I have spent four years in the country without my husband. He was denied access by the immigration department, despite the fact he has clear immigration history till date. I strongly believe it was my basic human right to have my spouse with me therefore, I applied three times but each time it was refused.

When I received the first refusal, I informed my supervisor about it and I immediately arranged holidays to have reunion with my husband. We continued to apply and regularly arranged reunions almost twice a year. This helped me to strengthen my long-distance relationship. I also took advantage of free counselling services offered by the University for graduate students, which helped me fight the negative emotions which arose due to this stressful long-distance relationship, as well as a demanding PhD life. I am glad I managed to survive both my marital relation and my PhD.

If at times your confidence is shaky, where do you turn? What or who empowers you?

A career in academia is generally a bumpy pathway and one has to deal with unsuccessful experiments, and manuscript and grant rejections, just to mention a few. When things go wrong, it can feel like the end of the world. For me, my support system of my parents and husband really empowers me. They always empathise with me deeply, listen to my failures without being judgemental and remind me that tomorrow will be a new day. They always motivated me when I was struggling with a new protocol, which really helped me to overcome my self-doubts.

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

Imposter syndrome is real, and it really hits hard and it can stop you achieving your best. When I experience this, I usually surround myself with the people who believe in me, who have faith in me and this motivates me – I can do it! I also look back on my achievements in my career which gives me sense of satisfaction and pleasure, and this helps me to beat imposter syndrome.

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

The government should provide an appropriate support to the spouses, partners and children of woman in STEMM, so they can perform better with less stress. It becomes hard to manage career when these women have to perform role of carer at their home. A long-distance relationship due to immigration policies is another challenge which needs to be addressed since it affects women who enter Australia to pursue careers in STEMM.

What are your three key pieces of advice to your younger self?

  • Make yourself uncomfortable
  • Never hesitate to ask for help from the right person
  • Be resilient and persistent

LinkedIn: Sidra Waheed


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