I was born in a rural village in Pakistan called Jhang, and grew up in a conservative Muslim family. I’m the first woman in my family to go to college, and I’m lucky to have been able to attend high school. In a male-dominated society, where females are not encouraged to go to school let alone to pursue higher education, I decided to become an engineer.
After college, I worked as a drilling specialist on oil rigs in the Amazon rainforests in Colombia. Aged 22, with barely a word of Spanish except ¡Hola!, and having lived in a protective environment all my life, I found myself working 16+ hours for 30-40 days at a time, sleeping in trailers on-site, and often the only woman on the rigs. It was hard work, but I was proud of myself, and excited to be independent. During the year of rigorous field work, I recognized the power of technology to solve real-world problems. I realized that solving problems was what I cared deeply about, and decided that I wanted to pursue advanced research in order to do this.
While in Colombia, I applied to graduate school at Stanford and got in. Currently, I’m a PhD student in Chemical Engineering. The primary focus of my research is to develop a high-resolution, fast-detection X-ray imaging system to improve traditional X-ray imaging. This work brings together multiple disciplines including optics, X-ray physics, microfluidics, chemistry and computer science. There are many applications, one being the potential to improve the diagnostic accuracy of early-stage breast cancer at a reduced radiation dose.
My mom is very proud of me. She keeps telling me that she didn’t live the life she wanted to, and she’s glad that I am pursuing my dreams. Hearing those words from her have motivated me to stay on my path. I was recently awarded the Schlumberger Faculty for the Future fellowship. The grant funds PhD studies of aspiring female professors from developing countries. My dream is to one day have a research lab and commercialize technologies that the lab develops. I’m passionate about research, but I want to make sure it has real-world applications.