Meet the Jordanian Dr. Lubna Al Tahtamouni
She was chosen as one of the most prominent top 10 scientists in the world, Dr. Lubna Al Tahtamouni, a Professor of Biology and Biotechnology Science, she won several international awards in the field of scientific and technological progress and honored by UNESCO and the US embassy. We are honored to choose the Jordanian Arab scientist as an inspirational woman in this issue. Additionally I would like to say how proud I am personally being her classmate in the College of Life Sciences at the University of Jordan, and sharing a friendship that I cherish.
Dr. Lubna, tell us about your choice of study, and why did you choose Life Sciences specifically?
First let me express how proud I am of your work and your magazine, your choice of topics is very deep and thought provoking, just like the way i remember you.
I started out in 1993 as a student in the science department at the Jordanian University, and I don’t think I chose Life Sciences on the contrary, it chose me! As you know we do not choose our specialty until the second year and after being exposed to different science subjects such as chemistry, physics, mathematics and life sciences, and after just the very first lecture on life sciences, I knew it is what I wanted to do in my life.
I went on to earn my Masters in the same university under the supervision of Dr. Hameed Al Haj, and I specialized in Developmental Biology/Reproductive Biology . Then I traveled to the USA to earn my PHD on Developmental Biology/migration of embryonic and metastatic cells, under the supervision of my role model and inspiration Professor James Bamburg.
Was your decision to travel to further your education in the USA an easy one? What challenges faced you as an Arab woman traveling alone? Did you find any objections from your family?
It wasn’t a spur of the moment decision therefor it was an easy one. During my third year in earning my BA I reached the decision to continue my education in the USA, and therefore I began planning my days and years accordingly. I completed my BA in June of 1997 and began on my Masters in July of the same year. In 1999 I began applying for universities in the USA while studying for my TOEFL and GRE. I requested that the University of Jordan send me to continue my education, and they did; from there I began my PHD in 2001 at Colorado State University.
My family were and still are my support system, my parents didn’t hesitate to accept me traveling abroad to continue my studies, as they are passionate about education and they do not differentiate between a girl and a boy.
I believe the most difficult time in my life was the first week alone in the USA, as I come from a relatively big family (3 males and 3 females), and suddenly I found myself alone in a new world, and being homesick especially for my parents that was the most difficult. Later I got to know Jordanian students that helped me adapt easier, and when I began working in the lab with Dr. James Bamburg I found my second family and didn’t feel like a stranger any more.
Tell us about your experience once returning back to Jordan, did you find the right atmosphere to help you continue your research? Did you face obstacles? And how did you overcome them? And how does our society see scientist? Do scientists get the recognition they deserve?
As I mentioned earlier my PHD education was with the help of the University of Jordan, so I was financially committed to them, but more importantly was my ethical commitment to an educational institute that waited for me for four years till my return. For research one needs researchers, equipment, and means of support, and there are shortcomings in all! Researchers want sponsors without putting effort on their part; sponsors on the other hand want quick and easy fixes most of the times. Many around me tried to bring me down and demotivate me, but my love for science and research was stronger than all. I presented projects to help aid my research from the University of Jordan, and from elsewhere (Scientific Research Support Fund, King Hussein Institute for Biotechnology and Cancer, L’Oreal Foundation in collaboration with UNESCO).
I went on to supervise higher education students, and drew my own research outline and started to write scientific articles and publishing them.
Scientist were and still are the heirs of prophets, and in most societies they are not appreciated, but who enters this field of science for publicity and recognition is not a true scientist.
Dr. Lubna we find in our societies girls are encouraged to seek an easy and simple education as in the end her degree will be hung on the wall, this deprives our societies wonderful talents that remain hidden and undiscovered, what advice you give our girls?
I learned to respect other people’s choices, but before one decides his path he has to view and study all available options, to be able to make a responsible and conscious decision. I believe this is what I try to do through my teaching, I portray all options for my students, especially the female students and then I let them decide. I am not against marriage and not against the girls staying at home, on one condition that it is the girl’s choice and only after weighing all possibilities. Life is not a shopping list, when one gets the first item he moves to the next! What I am trying to say is that girls do not have to draw their future paths like a shopping list; first a university degree and then marriage then kids, and then raising them and so on. Life is filled with opportunities and to give our children the best ones we should allow to do the same for ourselves first.
What are your ambitions for the future? And what do you wish for our Arab nations as they face major challenges, such as illiteracy?
My ambition is to set up a cancer research center at the cellular and molecular level and at the Hashemite University, and to have the power to offer any student scholarships to complete their higher education. I wish not to judge others through a narrow scope, and not to be afraid of change.