Portraits of young physicists: Fatema Tanjia, a pursued dream

By . Published on 15 December 2015 in:
December 2015, ,

I met Fatema years ago. In our Physics Department we were not used to hosting foreigners, but one day I saw an elegant young woman of oriental descent, dressed in a beautiful sari. I thought immediately we were going to have the chance to exchange about our cultures. Indeed, now, after 5 years, I have a story to tell: the story of a young courageous woman physicist, a great example of integration.

Fatema Tanjia is a theoretical plasma physicist, currently working as a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Naples Federico II. It was Fatema’s father who first inspired in her the idea of doing research: “You will do a PhD! Then you will have Dr. in front of your name“. She was admitted in Physics in the Jahangirnagar University, Bangladesh, and in 2008 she graduated with a Master thesis on dusty plasmas published into two international journals. After having worked for one year and half as University Lecturer in Bangladesh, she came to Naples in 2010 as doctoral student to work with the group of Prof. Renato Fedele on the theory of advanced plasma based acceleration mechanisms. During the three years of her doctoral studies she has published 8 articles and received two awards for the best presentation in international conferences. She obtained a PhD in Physics in April 2013 and now has a three year postdoctoral appointment at the University of Naples.  Her present research topic continues and expands the subject that she developed during her doctoral studies.

In the time shared with her for a coffee, or waiting for a seminar, I see in Fatema the worry of every young Italian: the difficulty related to find a job in the desired field of interest. While Fatema tells me about her recent interest in quantum plasmas of many body systems, I see in her a true passion for Physics, which explains her apparently fearless behaviour. “ Do you think we will be able to match our personal life with the career we aim to have?” – I ask her. Her determination surprises me, “Yes, because we love it”.

Speaking about gender balance, Fatema confesses that she never encountered any discrimination. However, the lower percentage of female scientists in physics makes her sad. She relates this fact to the problem of many female physicists renouncing to their careers after a PhD and/or one postdoc due to the lack of proper support in building a family-life. According to her, the European scientific community should use more initiatives like Marie Curie fellowship devoted to Career Restart Panel to support woman. Obviously, the name Marie Curie is her female physicist “cult figure”- a great example of balancing family life and research career according to Fatema.

Yesterday I received an email from Fatema, related to an outreach activity we are programming together. It is with her words that I want to end the portrait of a woman I admire: “Antigone, being a researcher is a passion. Things may get difficult, but the difficulties should not cut down our dreams. Let’s continue to pursue our dream and passion and see what happens”!

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