“Feminism isn’t about making women stronger. Women are already strong; it’s about changing the way the world perceives that strength.” G.D. Anderson
Many girls around the world do not have the freedom to pave their own paths. Some societies, raise young generations based on the myth that women must sacrifice their personal life to achieve excellence in their career. At many instances, young girls dream of becoming Cinderella not knowing they could also be Marie Curie, the first person to win the Nobel prize twice in 1903 and 1911. I urge empowered women to take action, inspire and invite more young ladies to achieve their career endeavors without being hesitant to dare to “want it all.” Because if we are many, we can make a difference.
I did not go to the royal ball; instead, I studied hard. I am still working hard and investigating kidney disease pathways and therapeutic targets at the lab of the internationally renowned nephrologist, Dr. Kumar Sharma, at the Center for Renal Precision Medicine.
In the center, I am not alone: “There is an increasing number of women in our biomedical research area, and I am proud to be a part of that development in our lab at the Center for Renal Precision Medicine. We are more than 60 percent ahead of the curve leading with cutting-edge technology,” said Pragya Singh, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate at CRPM working to understand the molecular mechanism that leads to mitochondrial dysfunction in kidney diseases.
While believing that more work needs to be done to achieve an equal proportion of women in leadership roles, Pragya states that, “raising awareness and taking action at the grassroots level will eventually lead to reforms for the next generation of female leaders.” Pragya is an excellent scientist who is strongly dedicated to supporting women’s empowerment activities and is a member of the American Society of Nephrology and Women in Nephrology.
I also discussed the women empowerment subject with my sister-in-law, Dr. Carine Jaafar, a postdoctoral fellow in hematology and medical oncology in the lab of Dr. Ricardo Aguiar. During her Ph.D. studies at the American University of Beirut, Carine balanced, contributing to science but also in her family life. She was awarded the L’Oreal-UNESCO for Women in Science Levant and Egypt 2017 fellowship and during that time she was raising her daughter and pregnant with her second child!
“I have always believed that a person who works or learns with pure heart quality will always gain heart beats quantity,” said Carine, whose road to success was loaded with bumps and complications.
But as Ralph Emerson said, “bad times have a scientific value. These are occasions a good learner would not miss.” I asked her to share the secret of her success: “It is primarily commitment, ambition, the ability of endurance, and passion for learning.”
As Oscar Wilde claimed, “Success is a science; if you have the conditions, you get the result.”
How could a success story start? I asked Samantha Yee, recipient of multiple awards, most recently, the National Cancer Institute F99/K00 predoctoral to postdoctoral fellow transition award. Should all scientists have an orthodox background? ”
After college, she was a full-time research assistant at UT Southwestern and part-time professional cheerleader for the Dallas Stars, an National Hockey League team, for her second year as a research assistant. As a Dallas Stars Ice Girl, she was humbled to have the opportunity to be a STEM representative for elementary-high school students.” Samantha is a fifth-year Ph.D. student at the Cellular and Integrative Physiology Department at the lab of Dr. April Risinger. She is a warrior with a remarkable success story. In her senior high school year, Sam experienced uncertainty and suffered from a solid mass on her ovary. After recovering from surgery and realizing the mass was non-cancerous, Sam dedicated her life to advocating for women’s health and identifying therapeutics for ovarian cancer.
Sam is an athlete, a young scientist, and a professionally-growing role model and leader. She served the graduate school and our community as president of the Student Government Association in 2020. She is also a member of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition – San Antonio Chapter Member. Choosing to become a scientist did not make Sam sacrifice her hobbies; on the contrary: “I think sacrificing joy to become a successful scientist would have me questioning whether this is the right career path for me. Happiness and good health are important. If I’m not in good shape or happy, how can I help others?”
Wearing many hats made me think of whether or not a woman can “have it all.” According to Sam, this concept relies significantly on the woman’s personal and professional expectations. “There is never the “right time” to start a family or go on vacation. Further, life never happens the way we expect it to be, so being patient, flexible, and understanding can help one’s outlook on whether we do “have it all” or not.”
Many more questions resonated in my mind, so I sought advice from Dr. Bansal, known as a “Born Nephrologist.” Dr. Bansal is a professor and physician in nephrology. She focuses on studying interventions to control hypertension, kidney and cardiorenal complications. Dr. Bansal is funded for two important Precision Medicine initiatives with NIH and several clinical industry grants. She also received the Dr. Robert Kunau Award for Excellence in Teaching byRenal Fellows (twice). She is the CTSA-TIN Liaison Team director at UT Health San Antonio and is the founder and co-director of the Annual Cardio-Renal Connections meeting. I could write a whole article on Dr. Bansal’s achievements in science, academia, and medicine. However, it is enough to tell you that she is also a wonderful mom lovingly raising two kids.
I asked for her opinion on women’s empowerment and the barriers that keep women from achieving their goals. Her response inspired me, “empowerment is when women have the power (or feel they have the power) to decide for themselves without undue pressure from the family, community, and cultural background. And at that point, it doesn’t matter what decision she makes for herself”. I want to reflect on this statement and emphasize where Dr. Bansal treats gender equality fairly and objectively. It reminds me of how Sadhguru addressed the millennials: “Do whatever you want, but do it well.” Now how do women achieve empowerment?
“Education is the first most important thing to achieve empowerment, and next is CONFIDENCE. Confidence is not naturally acquired; it is not an inborn thing; rather, it is developed. That development requires hard work and dedication to your dreams.” I would extract a stunning conclusion from Dr. Bansal’s quote, and that is when they have the choice, women could become their barriers, but they also could be the makers of their success story. And the Bansal advice to the young generations of women students is: “If you want to achieve a goal and become your best, go for it with full heart without paying consideration to your gender or status. The hard work will let you shine, and that is when you become unstoppable.”
My dear reader, and especially young ladies out there, dare to dream, dare to be bold and shine. Take care of yourself and your wellness—bond with women allies for mutual help and support. Recognize your differences with the other age, gender, social class, color, and culture; it is healthy to be aware of the discrepancies. Today, I invite you to walk through your fear and do “everything it takes” to be unique in whatever choice you make.
About the author:
Afaf Saliba, M.Sc. is a IBMS Ph.D. Candidate/TL1 scholar- UT Health San Antonio. She works at the Center for Renal Precision Medicine– Lab of Dr. Kumar Sharma– Nephrology Division- Department of Medicine. She is a recipient of Translational Science Training (TST) TL1 Award and a GSBS student representative at the Student Government Association and the Comprehensive Health and Wellness Advisory Committee. She is also the CGM discipline representative at the IBMS Student Council .