Breaking the Bias in STEM with Dr. Suborna Ahmed

On March 8, we join together in recognition of International Women’s Day and work towards a gender-equal world. This year, we are excited to chat with Dr. Suborna Ahmed, and learn what #BreakTheBias means to her in the STEM field.

Q: Tell us a bit about your journey and what drew you to Forestry and your area of study?

Suborna Ahmed - International Women's Day 2022

“Last year I joined the Forest Resources Management Department as an Assistant Professor of Teaching. I completed my BSc and MSc in Applied Statistics in Bangladesh and got interested in pursuing a PhD in an applied field. Then, I learned about the world-renowned Forest Biometrics lab in the Faculty of Forestry at UBC and became motivated to join. During my PhD, I also worked as a consultant in the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations in British Columbia, did an internship at Canada Revenue Agency and taught Statistics courses at UBC. After completing my PhD, I joined a few positions – as a postdoctoral fellow and lecturer at UBC, and also as visiting lecturer at two universities in China.”

Q: What are the challenges of being a #WomenInSTEM? Who inspires you?

“My most challenging area is when it comes to job negotiation, and later I learned that this is a common problem of women. My mentor Dr. Valerie LeMay suggested not underselling my expertise and being confident in the negotiation. I recommend the same to my women students and postdoctoral fellows and share my experience.

In my academic field, the women and mentors that I look to include Dr. Valerie LeMay, Dr. Bianca Eskelson, Dr. Shannon Hagerman, Dr. Suzie Lavalle and Dr. Julie Cool. Their success in STEM and initiatives in the senior management positions inspires me to proceed with my career goals in Forest Biometrics education.”

Q: What are you most proud of?

“I am where I wanted to be in academia, as well as working confidently in numerous educational leadership committees to shape the future of teaching and learning initiatives. I feel proud of my fellow women students when my encouragement and strong reference letters help them succeed in their desired position to pursue higher studies or prosper in their careers. For example, an undergraduate student in the Faculty of Forestry, An Hoang, worked with me for a few years and recently received the HSBC Emerging Leader Scholarship. I am proud of their achievements, and it encourages their women peers.”

Q: What are the best ways to encourage young girls to pursue STEM?

“In a male-dominated field, representation is especially important in encouraging young women and girls to pursue their passions in STEM. For example, having more women in leadership positions can help to tackle inflexible or exclusionary male-dominated work cultures often associated with STEM careers, and provide younger generations with a role model to look up to and inspire their interest in various STEM fields. As I discussed previously, mentors are also incredibly helpful in supporting young women entering the STEM world by not only supporting their work but helping them to navigate the space together. Having a platform whereby mentors and mentees can connect can be a great way to encourage more participation of women and girls in STEM.”

Q: What changes in course design may attract more women in STEM?

“Discussing diversity goals and practices within a classroom setting is one place to start these important conversations, and also ensuring that your teaching teams reflect the diversity of your students. Involving more women students as teaching assistants is another example of providing a role model for young women and girls to look up to. Providing and discussing examples of successful women students at the course level and at the program level is another way to showcase the achievements of women in STEM fields, and highlight the voices that may have been historically written out of dominant narratives.”

Q: How can we support women in academia and research – how can we #BreakTheBias in STEM?

“Women mentors helped me enormously in my academic position to make informed decisions and confidently work with male co-researchers. Creating women support groups and networks to engage with other women would be helpful to make a connection. To mitigate the bias in STEM, we need to identify where the preferences are in women’s discussion groups and take proper action to overcome those challenges together.”

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