Amal Amin: An Egyptian Scholar Seeks Equity for All in Research and Science
CAIRO—Since she joined Egypt’s National Research Center, Amal Amin, an Egyptian researcher and professor of nanotechnology, has dreamed of achieving gender equality for female scientists in research and scientific achievements.
“The representation problem of women and youth in science, and other fields, can be summed up in the lack of fair opportunities,” she said. “We need joint cooperation devoid of gender discrimination, devoid of supporting certain groups over others, in order to make them have equal opportunities in scientific work and innovation, to help them better achieve their goals.”
Amin explained that working in the Arab world is not easy in light of the “severe shortage of research funding,” in addition to the challenges facing women because of their social responsibilities.
“Women face many obstacles in forming professional networks to enhance their efforts,” she said. “The society usually expects them to give priority to their families over their career prospects.”
Support for Young Scholars of Both Genders
Convinced that science is one of the foundations of sustainable development, Amin launched Women in Science Without Borders in 2017, an initiative to support young scholars, both women and men, in achieving their dreams and helping them overcome the challenges they face.
The initiative aims to empower young scientists to achieve their ambitions, and to encourage cooperation among science, industry, nongovernmental organizations, and decision-makers. In addition, it seeks to raise the levels of public awareness of science and science literacy, and to encourage talented young Arab scientists to remain in the region. (See a related article, “Most Arab-World Researchers Want to Leave, a New Study Finds.”)
While the initiative has encouraged dozens of scientists in Egypt and abroad, female scientists still need more support, Amin believes.
“Egypt’s educational and societal system, like that of other developing countries, is still restricting women’s scientific dreams and their choice of their field of study,” she said. “This deprives them of scholarships abroad and the ability to assume leadership roles, forcing distinguished women to exert double efforts, compared to their male peers, to fulfill their achievements.”
But Amin is keen not to transform the Women in Science Without Borders initiative into an advocacy group for women. “I intended it as an initiative promoting equal opportunities for both genders, with a slogan of “science for sustainable development,” and as a way to advance society through science and make it available to society and people,” she said.
A Mother and a Scientist
Amal Amin sees her own scientific and career journey as similar to that of many of her female colleagues.
“I spent most of my life trying to achieve the greatest amount of scientific achievement before the age of 40, for scientific opportunities narrowed a lot after that,” she said. “This was also one of the reasons to launch the initiative, as I wanted to guide others during their professional lives’ golden years, which is a privilege I did not get. I wanted to provide them with a safe space to exchange experiences. I also wished to create a place that brings together scholars from around the world, regardless of gender, age and cultural background, to build a better shared future.”
The Women in Science Without Borders initiative was not Amin’s first attempt to support research work. She previously co-founded the Egyptian Young Academy of Sciences and the Northern African Research and Innovation Management Association. She has traveled to 35 countries around the world on research visits and to attend international scientific conferences, which enabled her to establish a wide network of scientific relations.
“Some might assume that what I was doing was strange, especially since I came from a conservative and traditional family,” she said. “I was never that person who followed the customs.”
But travel to study abroad was not easy for Amin, as her family did not approve of that.
“Some might assume that what I was doing was strange, especially since I came from a conservative and traditional family. I was never that person who followed the customs.”Amal Amin
An Egyptian researcher and professor of nanotechnology
“I was lucky to get married to a colleague who shared with me the same dreams,” she said. “After the birth of our first daughter, I got a Ph.D. scholarship in Germany. I traveled on my own, and my husband took care of our daughter during the initial period of learning German, then they followed me there. I sought to acquire my degree as soon as I could, so I completed the practical part in 18 months only, and wrote my dissertation in Egypt,” she added.
The juggling act of raising children while studying for her degrees and striving to produce research results was an added challenge during this time.
New Challenges as a Researcher
The challenges, however, did not end with Amin’s getting her Ph.D. She faced new struggles in applying the techniques she learned in Germany, on using catalysis and polymerization control to create nanocomposites that can be used in the manufacture of high-performance cement, in treating agricultural waste, in biomedical applications, as well as in smart materials for use in electronics and solar cells.
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“The lack of funding is not the only problem for scientific research, because research often steers away from innovation, and researchers work individually, in isolation from the collective spirit,” she said. “Some of them pursue promotions, without any positive change in society.” (See a related article, “Not Just Money: Arab-Region Researchers Face a Complex Web of Barriers.”)
She explains that “the prevailing culture and work environment do not welcome the participation of women in scientific work, nor the guidance of youth, as if it were not a priority, compared to the size of the responsibilities incumbent on them.”
‘A Passion, Rather Than a Job’
Rana Dajani, a professor of molecular cell biology at the Hashemite University, in Jordan, and president of the Society for the Advancement of Science and Technology in the Arab World, commends Amin’s continuous efforts in supporting scientific research.
“Knowledge, for Amal, is a passion, rather than a job. When a person enjoys discovering his passion in life, and the ability to pursue this passion, the way Amal does … then excellence is definitely the fruit of this effort.”Rana Dajani
President of the Society for the Advancement of Science and Technology in the Arab World
“Knowledge, for Amal, is a passion, rather than a job,” she said. “When a person enjoys discovering his passion in life, and the ability to pursue this passion, the way Amal does—in addition to the support she received from her family—then excellence is definitely the fruit of this effort.”
Dajani and Amin met about 10 years ago, when they worked together on a common research project, and their friendship has continued to the present day.
“Through her initiative, Amal seeks to help other scientists achieve the same goals,” Dajani said. “She is a role model, not only for female researchers, but also for the male researchers. She has the courage to speak about anything that is not right, in order to support justice, and to ensure equal opportunities for all everywhere.”
Islam Al-Ashqar, an associate professor of chemical engineering at the British University in Egypt, also admires Amin’s accomplishments through the Women in Science Without Borders initiative.
“The initiative is distinguished by its ability to network researchers in various fields to work on multidisciplinary research,” he said. “Amin encourages the cooperation among female researchers and with their fellow male researchers to enable them to achieve greater achievement, promote joint projects and grants, and enhance their presence and obtain awards and promotions more easily. This is one of the main challenges the initiative was launched to achieve.”
This week, Amin’s initiative and the University of Duhok, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, are coordinating to present the 2021 edition of the World Forum for Women in Science Without Borders, under the theme of “Science Diplomacy and Science for Humanity.” The virtual forum, which runs March 8 to 10, is aimed at refugees and displaced researchers and scientists. (See a related article, “Challenges of Academic Research in the Midst of War.”)
“This is a special initiative to contribute to building societies affected by wars and conflicts through science, given its importance in reconstruction and rebuilding,” said Amin. “Our region needs a lot of work that will not be done without the employment of science and the combined efforts of researchers of both sexes.”