Samia Elfekih

STEMM Profile: Dr Samia Elfekih | Research Scientist | CSIRO Health and Biosecurity Business Unit | CSIRO | Canberra | ACT 

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Dr Samia Elfekih

“I now embrace failure as an expected part of the process of building a career. If we don’t fail, it means we are not aiming high enough!”

Dr Samia Elfekih obtained her PhD in Genetics and Molecular Biology from the University of Tunis (Tunisia) in 2010. Her doctoral research work was conducted at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in the US, under the framework of the Fulbright program. After a brief visit to the department of Biology at the University of California Riverside (UCR), she moved to London to be a UNESCO-L’Oréal for Women in Science postdoctoral scientist, jointly at Imperial College and the Natural History Museum.

Dr Elfekih is currently a research scientist at the CSIRO Health and Biosecurity Business Unit. Her main research interests have been focused on the genomics of agricultural invasive insect pests. She has been developing ideas around the evolutionary ecology of the highly-damaging pest, the whitefly Bemisia tabaci cryptic complex, to investigate its phylogenomics and infer its demographic history and invasion pathways.

Dr Elfekih is at the forefront of applying genomics and bioinformatics to solve global health and food security related issues. She is a strong advocate of gender equity and women empowerment in STEM.

What would you say is your most valuable personal attribute that has helped you succeed?

Persistence! I have a very stubborn heart and I believe in my dreams. I remember long time ago, people used to tell me there is no way I could ever study in the US. Well, not only I proved them wrong but I scored one of the most prestigious American fellowships, a Fulbright fellowship!

What are you most proud of in your science career?

I am very proud of my progression. I never compare myself to others but compare myself now to where I stood ten years ago. I went from barely speaking English (being a French native speaker) to working for one of the top universities worldwide (Imperial College London) where I was awarded the highly-competitive UNESCO-L’Oréal fellowship for women in science.  

How do you cope with loss or rejection (e.g. rejected papers, non-funded grants, loss of personnel)? 

During my PhD and as a postdoc, I used to experience rejection as a profound grief, but, I realized I am not alone in this, even renowned professors get rejected. So, I decided to change my mindset. I now embrace failure as an expected part of the process of building a career. If we don’t fail, it means we are not aiming high enough!

Do you have a mentor? What is the most important advice they have given you?

I feel very fortunate to have had many mentors that helped me move forward with my career. The most important advice they gave me was to remain focused, driven and persistent because hard work and discipline always pay off. 

Who and/or what inspires you to achieve?

About ten years ago, I was not sure if I could ever pursue a career in science, I was listening to the radio one day and this Tunisian physics professor was being interviewed because she won the Unesco-L’Oréal award, she was so inspiring, so full of life, that I thought, one day I will become like this woman!

Twitter: @samia_elfekih