NYU Abu Dhabi Associate Director, Research Public Outreach and Kawader Program Nouf Ali Al Hamly discusses her work helping young Emirati women succeed in academic research. Her work on Kawader is empowering Emirati women and helping shape the next generation of local researchers. Here she talks about her background, and her work at the University.
What is your academic background?
I have a bachelor’s degree in genetics from the University of Sheffield and then became a molecular diagnostics technologist at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, which included analysis on genetic diseases. I then got my masters degree in Business Psychology from Heriot-Watt University a few years after joining NYUAD and establishing the Kawader program.
How did you end up working at NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD)?
NYUAD wanted to develop its research outreach, and I was taken on to help develop that department. One of the main objectives of our outreach efforts is to articulate NYUAD research to the Abu Dhabi community by engaging with the public and showcasing our research, as well as contributing to building national capacity in research in the UAE. I wanted to create pipelines for Emirati students with a background in STEM who wanted to contribute to the research ecosystem, as it was something that I had struggled to access and noticed it was the same for other young Emiratis like me Our target audience was young Emirati graduates and I wanted to develop a program that addressed the specific challenge that I faced. So we created a three-year, individually tailored, intensive program that would help immerse young graduates in research and provide the mentorship they need in their early career.
What sort of skillset can be useful to have in the field of research?
Communication is essential. It’s not just about developing research, but how this research is translated and relayed to the community. This includes connecting with industries and government entities and informing them of our activities. We also look at ways in which our research could help inform future public policy.
Is the program exclusive to STEM researchers?
Kawader is multidisciplinary and we also hire fellows in social sciences, humanities, and the arts. We recognize the importance of developing expertise in all those disciplines and its role in diversifying a knowledge-based economy. At present, it feels like there is still greater interest in the STEM field among our researchers, as this is a major focus for the UAE’s development plans, but we do welcome other fields.
What is the wider impact the program has had on young Emiratis?
Kawader reminds research fellows that their passion is valuable, it is not just a hobby. Research is a vocation and not just a stepping stone to a “real job” - in other words, a money-making job. There are global implications and local relevance for what they are doing, and immense value in the way researchers help diversify the economy. Research is the springboard for technological advancement, prosperity and developing national capacity.
What impact has Kawader had in terms of women and education?
Although we didn’t market the program just to women, about 88 percent of our fellows are female who have taken on fascinating research initiatives across different disciplines. I think this reflects the passionate interest that women have in education. Although we’re happy to have more men participate, I’ve observed that men tend to gravitate towards business and/or industry after their initial education whereas women are more open to pursuing further academic work.
What is the significance of Emirati Women’s Day for you?
Emirati Women’s Day acknowledges the work done to empower women in the UAE, even though there is still a long way to go. We still need more opportunities that enable women to forge their own paths. I personally like to think about the work done by our mothers’ and grandmothers’ generation and the fact that they were not widely celebrated for the profound changes they helped implement. Thanks to them, I am enabled to speak the way I do because I was provided with the opportunity. For Emirati women to be able to discuss these things, to pursue our passions and to express them in that way is, historically-speaking, an unbelievable achievement. For that reason, Emirati Women’s Day is just as important to the older generations as it is for my peers.