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'They are very surprised to see a girl!': Concordia women who defy STEM stereotypes

On Ada Lovelace Day, we spoke to two PhD students about molecules, manufactured electrodes — and why people mistake them for men
October 11, 2016

Ada Lovelace Day: 2 Concordia women who defy STEM stereotypes

Ada Lovelace Day
, named after the 19th-century English mathematician, seeks to shine a global spotlight on the role of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) research.

Which is where these two Concordia graduate students come in...

Maniya Aghasibeig is a PhD candidate with the Electro-Catalytic Green Engineering Group and the Thermal Spray Laboratory in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial EngineeringCindy Buonomano is a PhD student in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and president of the Chemistry and Biochemistry Graduate Student Association.

Why did you become a scientist or an engineer?

Cindy Buonomano:  Ever since I was a little girl, I've known I wanted to be a scientist. I read scientific magazines, watched scientific TV shows and made my own observations from scientific experiments.

Cindy Buonomano Cindy Buonomano

Naturally, in school, I oriented my education towards science and, more specifically, chemistry. I was interested in finding out how everything works on a molecular level.

Chemistry has brought many great moments of joy to my life. In high school, I was able to travel to Paris for a contest when I was only 17 years old. And now, here I am in Quebec to realize my dreams and maybe become a professor who can inspire other young scientists.

Maniya Aghasibeig: I became fascinated with materials science after I took a high school course on the subject, and got familiar with various types of materials (metals, ceramics, polymers etc.) with different structures and properties.

A year later, just prior to choosing an undergraduate major, I met someone who studied in the field, and he explained to me about its diversity and its flexibility: it can be used in many different technologies, from aerospace to health care. That was when I knew that I wanted to study in this field.

Usually when I first contact people by email and introduce myself as a PhD candidate who studies mechanical engineering, they assume that I am a guy. Later, when we meet in person or speak on the phone, they are very surprised to see/hear a girl!

Tell us about what you're researching now, and why.

CB: I am currently a PhD student in organic chemistry. I decided to take the PhD path because I want to be a professor. In the last few years, while supervising undergraduate students, I discovered a true passion for teaching.

In organic chemistry, our goal is to build drugs or molecules with a potential material application. To do it, we have to develop new methods to synthesize these interesting molecules. My research project is "Synthesis of Heteroaromatic Compounds via Palladium-Catalyzed Cross-Coupling and Directed Ortho-Metalation Reactions."

Maniya Aghasibeig Maniya Aghasibeig

MA: I work on manufacturing nickel electrodes using different thermal spraying techniques for hydrogen production by water electrolysis.

This hydrogen can be stored, converted and used later — for instance, for electricity production with no emissions other than water vapour.

The need for green and renewable energy resources arises from increasing concerns about the depletion of fossil fuels, in addition to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming that occur alongside the fast development of modern industries.

These manufactured electrodes are expected to increase the efficiency of the water electrolysis process by increasing the rate of hydrogen production and lowering the process costs. 

Were you inspired by other women in your field?

MA: My mentor was my boss from my last industrial job: Barbara Maroli at Höganäs AB in Sweden. She was extremely knowledgeable, determined and successful in her career. She became my role model the first day I met her.

When I told her that I wanted to study for a PhD she was truly encouraging and supportive. She helped me to explore my options and make a decision with confidence.

CB: Many women inspired me, like Marie Curie, who got the Nobel Prize in chemistry and in physics, and Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to go to space. I told my little self that if these women were able to go that far, why can't I?

I've had so many people in my life tell me that I would not succeed in my studies and I should stop. I am glad I never listened to them! It is hard to be a woman in a world dominated by male scientists, but trust me: you are as good as them. So be strong, and inspire other little girls to do the same.

Find out how to study mechanical and industrial engineering or chemistry and biochemistry at Concordia. 


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