By Imogen Feder
For our latest People of Robogals blog, we had the pleasure of talking to engineer Amina to discuss her decision to move overseas to study, her passion for mentoring female science students and her fascination with studying light – and electric fish.
You can tell Amina is passionate about electric fish from the way she starts to talk fast, and her eyes light up.
“They really are the most fascinating creatures,” she says, smiling, “so please just stop me if I am talking about them for hours”.
These tiny fish use electric signals to navigate and talk to one another, and Amina’s thesis attempts to unravel how their brains interact with their electric organs.
She started researching Weakly electric fish, including the Black Ghost Knifefish, while a physics and engineering student at the University of Ottawa and is expecting to publish her research shortly.
With so much obvious passion for physics and engineering, it is surprising to learn that Amina didn’t always believe a career in science was a possibility.
As a girl growing up in Morocco, she didn’t know many female family or friends working in STEM-related fields, and was not pushed to explore her passion for science at school.
“I can only speak to my experience but often women’s careers are not prioritised, and girls aren’t always encouraged to pursue their education in technical fields. Having more women representation in STEM could really make a difference.”
Luckily, Amina’s parents encouraged her to visit libraries and discover science, and to pursue her interest in stars and planets in her own way.
In her final year of high school, she was inspired by her Physics Professor to pursue further study in science.
When it came to choosing a university, her strategy was a little unusual.
“Naive me in high school”, she said, laughing, “I looked at the Nobel Prize Laureates Nominees in Physics and I saw the University of Ottawa had a Professor that was nominated.”
Moving halfway across the world, Amina found herself studying in classes with only four females out of 150 students.
“It can be really intimidating. Sometimes it is hard to be taken seriously just because you don’t match what everyone else looks and feels like.”
These experiences inspired Amina to mentor other science students while at university.
She found student to student interaction to be helpful, especially for first year students struggling with time management and learning strategies.
She soon found that being visible as a woman in STEM was inspiring to many students, giving them hope they could “power through the degree and get it done!”
Amina was one of the first students to graduate with a double degree in Physics and Engineering from the University of Ottawa and specialised in photonics, the application of light.
She now works as an engineer at Lumentum and is involved in projects that aim at improving the manufacturing process and quality of optical communication products.
“I am so fortunate that I had the opportunity to study, and now work, in a field that I love and I realise that a lot of people don’t have that option.”
Amina started working with Robogals in May after she organised the Canadian Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics at the University of Ottawa in 2019.
At the Conference, she found it empowering to see so many women speaking about graduate opportunities, and Nobel Prize winning physicist Donna Strickland spoke at the event.
She is now busy ensuring that future Robogals North American SINE Conferences will be full of inspiring female STEM speakers and workshops.
Amina continues to inspire people to make a difference.
“I want to give all girls the idea that if a career interests you, then don’t be afraid to pursue it! It might look intimidating and scary, and maybe you don’t know any women who have done it, but it is possible.
I had the craziest dreams as a kid. It’s telling kids that it is possible to have a career in science that really makes a difference!”
If you know of someone who may want to share their experiences and love of science – please contact us at [email protected]