Amna Riaz - 2021 SPIE Women in Optics Planner
PhD Student in Engineering Science
University of Oxford, UK
Born in Pakistan
I always wished to become an engineer. I think the reason was that I heard a lot about how interesting engineering life was and how engineering skills could transform you into an independent risk-taker. No other profession inspired me as engineering did, so I wanted to learn and apply engineering skills to every phase of my life. Plus my absolute love for mathematics helped a lot.
As a third-year PhD student, my primary tasks include reviewing literature, designing my experiments, doing the risk assessments for the experiments and running them independently, and later discussing the results with my supervisor. It depends on the day: sometimes I spend days and days just trying to get one experiment working. It is challenging but it is worth it. Things are rarely rewarding without challenge. Making the coolest things in technology is the best thing that could happen to you!
Getting into engineering and pursuing higher studies were the two main obstacles of my life. I belong to a culture where the acceptance of girls in engineering is not that appreciated. I spent days convincing my elders to let me join engineering, and eventually they agreed. Later when I wanted to do a PhD, I had to go through the same process again.
I overcame this resistance by accepting the problem and pursuing my ambition no matter what I faced. I have always believed in what I’m doing and that's the key. Most obstacles are temporary (no matter how intense they are) and if we try to deal with them positively, that’s the first step towards the solution.
Subjects have no gender, so try not to think about being a woman too much, but rather, try to be the best person you can be. Take the high road when things get wonky. Pursue the careers you want in STEM and pursue your dreams despite what anyone else says or thinks; be an inspiration. My advice is don’t give up. You need to believe that your dreams are realistic and possible. Only compare yourself to you last week, or last month, or last year. If you are learning and getting better, celebrate.