Professor, Division of Rheumatology & Immunology SmartState and Kitty Trask Holt Endowed Chair for Scleroderma Research
College of Medicine
Tell me about yourself and your role here at MUSC.
When I was recruited to MUSC in 2013, the university was running a Women Scholars Initiative to support the careers of women in science. Around that time, the College of Medicine received a National Science Foundation grant to build on this program and established the Center for Advancement, Recruitment and Retention of Women in Science (ARROWS). I was appointed to be the lead director for the program, which provides resources and support specifically for female scientists or faculty. So not only do I focus on my (scleroderma) research, but I also contribute a lot of my time helping mentor young female physicians and academic scientists. It’s a real passion for me to be able to help support the careers of women.
What are the benefits of the ARROWS program and how does it help support women in science?
ARROWS, which is open to all female faculty, staff and students, provides women with workshops for career development, networking and coaching on topics such as how to negotiate or how to say no when you have too much on your plate but being able to do it in a politically correct way. We have programs that we know make tangible differences and improve things in a more direct way. We also have programs that can take longer to have an impact, but we also work in some areas that are going to help in the short term. Also, we have an external research grant review program offered to women scientists in the College of Medicine. In general, success rates for grants are close to 20 percent and our success rate has reached over 40 percent which is double!
What barriers have you faced, as a woman, in becoming successful in your field? What advice would you give to overcome them?
I would be surprised if there are women who don’t face barriers in any working field. There are much fewer women at the higher ranks, especially in the academic field. I would say one of the main barriers for myself and other women would be the fact that women are under represented at the higher ranks and in leadership and therefore there are fewer of them to open doors for other women to grow and move up the ranks. The best advice I can give would be to work extremely hard and do your best in order to move ahead with the resources you have. Network whenever possible and most importantly never get discouraged. Perseverance is key. And when you get there, open doors for others.
You are not only a successful, well-known woman in your career, but you are also a mother and a wife. How do you manage a steady work life balance?
To me, you simply cannot make an equal balance of everything in life. Some days I spend more time with my family because that is my priority and I can afford to do that. And some days I may not see them all day because I have a grant deadline or I’m away at a study section. I try and carve out times for the important things and prioritize when necessary. Being a mother brings me so much joy and since having children, I’ve found that I have become more efficient, and I am actually able to prioritize better. So, I wouldn’t call it a work life balance but more of a work life integration.
What does "gender balance" mean to you as a woman working in a career in medicine?
Gender inequality is still very much alive today and, as modern women, we experience our own set of challenges in the workforce. Everybody (men and women) should be at the table because everybody brings a different perspective. I believe in having gender diversity because it makes us smarter and we learn from each other that way. Women are very creative, practical, logical, and are very efficient and have a lot of knowledge to give. We lose when we don’t tap into creating a more gender balanced world, especially in the workforce.
What would you tell a young girl right now who wants to be a scientist?
Never give up. It is within your reach. To not get discouraged by anyone telling her otherwise. I tell my eight-year-old daughter and other young girls that you can do anything you set your mind to do. No one can stop you. If it’s what you want to do, you just go for it.
Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?
My mother made a big impact on my life. She grew up in a Lebanese culture and she came from a family where young girls were sent to finishing school before they were married. While I was in school, I had a real interest in science, especially research, and I had decided that I wanted to go to graduate school to get my PhD. My mother’s friends were mostly housewives and all of them discouraged my mother from letting me go away on my own and from getting my degree. She went against what her friends were telling her and she was very adamant that I follow my dream to pursue research. She was extremely supportive of me and what I wanted to do and I would not be where I am at today if it weren’t for her.