Meet a Wonder Woman – Tasmia Zaman

By Akasha Kaleem


Tasmia Zaman is an international student who has come all the way from Bangladesh to pursue a PhD degree in Materials science and engineering. Her field of research is on lead-free Piezoelectric ceramics. She likes to make new friends and chat over a cup of chai. One of her favourite hobbies is cooking and she’s trying to be a pro at making biryani. But also she’s got nerves of steel and never backs down high-pressured jobs. She has overcome several challenges in the field of education in her own country where a male dominant stereotype exists. Let’s find out more about her experience.

What was your motivation towards engineering field?
I had never thought of becoming an engineer until I moved to college. Initially, just like my father, I’d always dreamt of becoming a doctor and the interest later moved towards teaching. But when I was in college, I realized that I am quite good at mathematics and calculations and can do far better in an engineering field. It was a hard decision to make because in a developing country like Bangladesh, all the technical fields are pervaded by males. My mother supported my decision and here I am today.

Would you like to talk about the challenges and struggle you faced during your degree?
My country has made much progress in girls’ education but unequal gender level in all IT and technical fields still exists. Only a few girls decide to choose engineering related studies as industrial jobs are almost unavailable for them after their degrees. So, I endured a lot of criticism and demotivation from my society. It was a very hard and brutal decision for myself as well as for my family. But I didn’t let those people’s judgments stop me and continued studying passionately. I also suffered unemployment for quite a period due to limited available vacancies for women in companies. But I never gave up and continued applying to various jobs and after much struggle, a well-renowned company decided to hire me.

That’s great to hear. How was the job? Did you enjoy working there?
Not at all. It was again a boys’ club and the public areas were always surrounded by many men. We had to do hard labour equally like men out in the hot sun. There were no separate female sittings and rest areas. But I never bothered such harsh environment for myself and as a result, the company started hiring more women in their field. Now I consider myself a figurehead for those women who are coming and working there, and I feel immense pleasure in it.

What are you proud of today?
Doing a PhD in the field of my choice was a dream and I think it has come true. Today, I am studying at UNSW which comes under the world’s top-ranked universities and I feel so proud about it. I am also working as a faculty member in one of the universities of Bangladesh and want to return home after completing my studies. I would want to develop a collaborative network between Australia and Bangladesh in my research field. I think I have a long career to go within my research and that’s all I wanted for my life.



Is there any advice you’d like to give to young girls?
I’m a fighter. Every woman is a fighter. Our battle grounds might be different, but we all are fighting for the same purpose – to develop a better world for the next generations, especially women. So never give up and never let anyone take away what are you’re capable of. Also, you’ve got to run your own journey. You’d feel alone at many places where nobody would come to help you. Only you yourself can push through those limits, so continue struggling.

Follow Tasmia Zaman on Twitter @TasmiaZaman2
Follow Akasha Kaleem on Twitter @kaleemakasha

A sight for sore eyes – Meet Zahra Tajbakhsh

By Mahjabeen Khan

Are you brave enough to travel 10,000km away from home to pursue your dream? Zahra Tajbakhsh is! Growing up in Fars province, Iran, Zahra always excelled academically in science subjects, so much that her family nickname was Dr Zahra. Years later, Zahra used her skills to become an optometrist, helping treat people with a range of eye conditions. Curiously however got the better of her and she decided to pursue the dream of becoming Dr Zahra, taking up a PhD in Australia. She now works at the School of Optometry at UNSW, studying how immune cells in the eye cause allergies. 


You’re a vision science researcher What lead you down this path?

During elementary and high school, I was great at science-based subjects like chemistry, biology and maths and thus I knew I wanted a career related to science. My family were very supportive of this and even used to call me ‘Dr Zahra’. However, when I passed the university entrance exam, I didn’t actually know what type of science I wanted to pursue so I selected the optometry simply based on the fact that it received a high credit score and I had one.

After I graduated as an optometrist, I realised how useful I could be for people who were suffering from eye-related diseases. Whenever my patients came back to me and talked about how happy they were with their treatments, I felt so proud and happy. However, I also found myself wanting to go beyond just treating patients and actually increase the knowledge in the field. So, I took a big leap and moved 10,623km away from my family and friends in Iran to do a PhD in Australia. It was a really big decision, but I love learning new things every day and getting closer to actually becoming ‘Dr Zahra’.

What is your PhD project about?

My PhD project focuses on allergies which affect the eye. These are known as ocular allergies. Ocular allergies are a problem because they are increasing in prevalence worldwide and all the current treatments for these allergies only provide sufferers with temporary relief. In my PhD, I am studying the special immune cells responsible for initiating allergies in the eye. If we can understand how these cells cause allergies, then we can hopefully develop better treatments in the future.

An image of the nerves of the cornea (front surface of the eye) examined by Zahra's research
An image of the nerves of the cornea (front surface of the eye) examined by Zahra’s research

What part of your research do you find most interesting?

I love all the parts of research! I like finding gaps in the current knowledge and designing a research aim. I also like conducting experiments, collecting data and analysing it. I find it interesting and love the feeling that I am adding new information to the scientific world.

What do you get up to when you are not doing research?

I love music and have just started to learn an instrument called the Sitar. It is a traditional Iranian instrument. I also like to read philosophy and poetry books, hang out with friends and watch movies.

What are your plans after you finish your PhD?

I would like to continue to do research, probably with research and development companies. I think the important part of the research is to be able to translate results into products and services which can be used by people.

The UNSW Women’s in Maths and Science program is all about sharing science with the public, particularly the younger generation. What’s your message to the younger generation about science?

I encourage young people to look at science and science related careers and don’t think that they are too hard. Whilst I have definitely  found it hard sometimes it’s worth persisting. Like all things in life, no matter how hard it is or how many times you may fail, if you trust yourself and love what you are doing, it will all be worth it.


Follow Zahra on Twitter

Follow Mahjabeen on Twitter