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Posted On: 19 December 2022 05:41 pm

Scientist from Qatar honoured at L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science ceremony

Vrinda Abilash
Vrinda Abilash
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Qatar scientist fatiha benslimane loreal unesco women science ceremony

The 2022 edition of the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science initiative honoured and recognized 5 female scientists from the GCC region for their ground-breaking research in the fields of life sciences, physical sciences, mathematics and computer science.

This year, the program recognized the remarkable scientific discoveries of women in the Arab World, highlighting their role in solving today’s challenges and inspiring the future generation. A scientist from Qatar, Dr Fatiha M. Benslimane was honoured for her research on developing a fast, reliable and cost-effective protocol for microbial analysis to allow real-time diagnosis.

L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science initiative
Image credit: L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science initiative

The (ILQ) team brings you an interview with Dr. Fatiha M. Benslimane about her research, the focus of her project and her message to aspiring female scientists in Qatar. Read on to find out more.

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

Fatiha: My name is Fatiha Benslimane. I'm a Research Associate from the Biomedical Research Center (BRC) at Qatar University. I have been living in Qatar since 1995. All my school years were in Qatar public schools and I got my bachelor's degree from Qatar University and then did my Master of Science from Nottingham Trent University, UK.

I then worked at Weill Cornell Medicine in Qatar before securing a scholarship from the University Of Nottingham, UK, to pursue a Ph.D. Since joining the BRC in 2018, I have been working on several projects that revolve around incorporating new technologies into my research. These projects are mainly in the field of genomics and sequencing. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I was heavily involved with whole genome sequencing of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to determine the viral strains circulating in Qatar. The idea of the award-winning project came after the global loss of many lives due to secondary infections or unknown etiologies during the pandemic, a project within my scope of work.

2. How did you get into the L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women In Science program?

Fatiha: L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science is a program that identifies and rewards talented young female scientists in life sciences. I was selected as one of three talented young Arab women researchers working in a Research Laboratory, Institute, or University based on the quality of our research.

3. What is the focus of your research project, and how will it benefit Qatar and the world?

Fatiha: The burdens and challenges experienced by the health sector and diagnostic laboratories highlighted that the methods for rapid detection of infectious agents are critical for bettering a patient's condition.

Currently, in clinical settings, a traditional microbiology laboratory can take anywhere from three to seven days to produce results, with false negatives common when antibiotics are used. This has prompted us to devise a low-cost protocol that has the potential to reduce detection time to 5 hours.

Qatar has a strong healthcare system that is constantly evolving, thus implementing such protocols will only make it stronger. The low cost of the protocol will also allow for a rapid and precise diagnosis to be accessible to more remote and impoverished areas.

4. How do you feel about receiving the award and representing Qatar?

Fatiha: I was overwhelmed with joy when I received the news, and it helped me push forward to work even harder to achieve my goals. Few programs recognize and encourage scientists in general, and even fewer do so for women in science. I feel privileged to have my work recognized by the L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women In Science program.

This recognition gives me confidence in my work and reassurance that hard work pays off. I believe that living in Qatar has paved the way for such an opportunity.

I am grateful and honoured, I also consider myself privileged as I represent two nations, the country where I was born and originated from which is Algeria and my second home, where I lived and grew up - Qatar.

5. What can you say about such recognition of women in the field of science?

Fatiha: Women represent around half of the world’s population, in other words, half of its potential. However, only a third of the world’s researchers are women and fewer hold senior positions. This type of recognition encourages women to pursue a career in scientific research. It provides reassurance and motivation to hopeful young scientists to take a risk and dive into the subject of science.

6. What is your assessment of scientific research and development in Qatar?

Fatiha: Qatar is one of the very few countries in the region that supports scientific research. This is evident in how the research and scientific community are evolving. Qatar hosts several research institutes and research centres within universities, and the only way these institutes and centres are running is through the various funding opportunities presented in Qatar. I personally can vouch for this as I received a number of national grants either from the university, industry or other funding bodies in the country.

7. What is your message to aspiring female scientists in Qatar?

Fatiha: Hard work pays off! Be ambitious and bold with your goals. Knowledge is the key to success so pursue it to make a better future, not just for yourselves but also for society. Always remember that in one way or another, your work will contribute towards improving lives.

8. Anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Fatiha: My advice to anyone reading this article is to choose a career you enjoy. This will help you succeed and thrive in any field. Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank my support system, my family, without their support and motivation, I would not have reached where I am.

I consider myself lucky to be part of the BRC, where we are constantly supported to reach our goals. My director, Prof. Asmaa Al Thani, advised me to apply for L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women In Science program as it helps promote promising and successful female scientists.

This program is important as it empowers women across the scientific fields to become successful within their areas of expertise. Many winners of this program have gone on to earn the Nobel Prize in Sciences.

What do you think about Fatiha's achievements? Are you interested in pursuing a career in STEM? Do let us know in the comments below. Do share this article - it keeps us going!