Round Table with Prof. Hind Al-Abadleh

Prof. Hind A. Al-Abadleh openly participated in a round table to discuss her chapter in the book “Making Chemistry Inclusive: Proceedings of the CSC Symposium on Equity and Diversity in Chemistry.” We, a group of about 12 graduate students and faculty members, were fortunate to meet with her over delicious food and thoughtful conversation. While munching on our snacks, we were able to learn about Prof. Hind’s view of inclusion in chemistry, her background, and her goals for the new year. We began by delving into Al-Abadleh’s role in “Making Chemistry Inclusive.”

How did Al-Abadleh get involved with this initiative?

Hind Al-Abadleh was at a dinner for women and friends in chemistry when she was asked to take part in writing this book. It was perfect timing because she could use her upcoming sabbatical to write a talk for the CSC symposium and its corresponding book chapter.

How did Al-Abadleh prepare the talk?

Al-Abadleh completed her PhD and a postdoctoral fellowship in the United States, so she was interested to compare US statistics with Canadian statistics. It only took two months to research and write the presentation and 52-page book chapter. She contacted Syracuse University and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC)  as a reference because they had their own initiatives solely for Inclusivity in Chemistry and chemical engineering. For the Canadian statistics, she had to pay $300 for Statistics Canada to prepare the data for information about Canadian graduate students and professionals. (Interestingly, this $300 also comprised the entire budget for her project.)

What did Al-Abadleh find as she was preparing for her presentation?

Al-Abadleh’s most shocking result is there are more foreign-born university graduates, female and male, with degrees in STEM than Canadian-born. She was also disappointed to know how dated the information she received from Statistics Canada was. She brought up important questions such as “Why isn’t the CSC collecting data from the chemistry departments around the nation?” and “Why is there a paywall to see old data?” Further explaining this thought, there was an impressive effort at UIUC to promote growth in underrepresented minorities, and they were able to achieve this by taking a critical look at the numbers. UIUC was able to significantly increase both the number and percentage of unrepresented minority students in the chemistry department. She suggested that Canadian schools should take similar action to make departments here more inclusive as well.

Why did Al-Abadleh decide to come to Canada, especially since she started her major research career in the US?

Long story short, Al-Abadleh chose to immigrate so she could bring her family more easily to North America. However, this process took eight years starting from her immigration to becoming a sponsor for other immigrants to finally welcoming her family members.

Al-Abadleh’s views of mothers with advanced science degrees:

Al-Abadleh supports women who want to raise children full-time with a PhD in science. She knows some professors tend to be upset when a student decides to leave her scientific career due to her decision to have children. She is very open to this career path because she believes it is a benefit to children to have highly educated mothers. These mothers become role models for their own children and others, and have a different set of skills to raise their children. She has been impressed by the scientists who have dedicated their efforts for their children.

We had a few questions on Prof. Al Abadleh’s upbringing.

In the United Arad Emirates (UAE), the public schooling of children is segregated by gender. At the public university level, professors would have to teach at both campuses and would travel between the two. However, Al-Abadleh believes this was vital to her upbringing as a scientist. She is a firm supporter of learning in an environment of purely women. She learned both how to be friends with and compete against other women. She didn’t have to care about boys, as there was no need to impress them. Having good grades was not a negative trait and wearing expensive fashionable clothes was not a positive trait in the social atmosphere in school. In fact, some of the professors would mock the boys when the girls class would outperform the boys. In truth Al-Abadleh believes, “school did more for my career than my parents,” as her teachers and professor were able to guide her through her passions and interests. Her parents only wanted her to excel in what she did. Her teachers and professors were able to answer the important questions like: What are you good at? What subjects do you not suffer in? She is grateful for her mentors, because they know her strengths and weaknesses. She was also more accepting of their criticism, because it was rooted in her self interest and relevant to her career.

Would Al-Abadleh like diversity to extend beyond white women, especially as a Woman of Color (WOC)?

Prof. Al-Abadleh is sensitive with this topic, because sometimes colloquiums and panels have specific aims. However, if someone invites her to talk about this issue, she will gladly indulge her audience.

Has Al-Abadleh have any difficulties being a WOC in her department?

Over six years, she was awarded 6 external awards from national agencies in the US and Canada including the ACS Petroleum Research Award and an award from the Ministry of Ontario, but not any internal merit awards. She called her union to give a grievance claim (she had to work fast because the deadline for grievances is one month after announcing internal merit awards). Accompanied by a union representative, she approached the dean. Although she presented why she should have received the internal award, ultimately, her case was rejected by the university. By coincidence, a reporter from a major newspaper contacted her whether she had faced bias as a woman of color in her current position. She then related her story to this and the anecdote was published. The following year, the university bestowed the internal award to Al-Abadleh. To this day, she is still conflicted with this award, and said, “Every sweet moment comes with some salt.” This award especially came with an extra dash.

What is the environment where Al-Abadleh works?

Hind was the first female to be hired in her department. Currently, she is joined by two female faculty in the professional teaching stream.

What are Al-Abadleh’s views on Academia?

Academia is not a level playing field. An avid fan of soccer, Hind compared the biases in academia to the biases found in sports.  Some teams can’t get to the championship games because they don’t have enough funding to have proper training, which can be compared to the amount of funding a laboratory has access to. Hind has an interesting philosophy on the way to succeed in academia. You need brain smarts to get the job, but you need street smarts to keep the job. How much of your own interests do you have to sacrifice to fit in? Do you have to conform to the norm and do the “guy” related activities to be included in important conversations in your workplace environment?

What is Al-Abadleh currently doing to increase inclusivity in chemistry?

The CSC added diversity as one of its strategic plan pillars and asked Hind to join the initiative. While Hind was not able to elaborate much on the work of the committee, she is excited and says, “We are doing good stuff.” And Hind’s enthusiasm for opening the conversation about chemistry research and increasing diversity in chemistry? “It’s like Disney World!”

About womeninchemto

Women in Chemistry, Toronto Chapter (WICTO) is student-run initiative started in 2014 to promote gender diversity within the chemistry community through awareness, engagement and advocacy.