Amgen Scholars Program: Reem Abdel-Haq
Host Institution: Stanford University
Undergraduate Institution: Brown Universiy
Hometown: Simi Valley, California
Born to Palestinian immigrants, Reem Abdel-Haq has tried to hold on to the unique ways of her family’s culture. But she has also felt torn between Middle Eastern and American traditions. Commonly, Arab women, including Reem’s mother, feel pressured to leave their educational paths and career aspirations at young ages to raise families.
Last summer, Reem got her first chance to try hands-on laboratory research—as a 2014 Amgen Scholar at Stanford, one of her top choices for graduate study. She wasn’t sure what to expect, she says, but when she arrived at the lab of Michael Snyder, she soon realized that scientists work collaboratively rather than in isolation. She was able to work independently but with plenty of mentorship and support.
And Reem got even more support upon returning to the Program house every evening after her day at the lab: in the form of 33 other Amgen Scholars, who were her housemates and friends. “The summer was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. It was definitely life changing,” Reem says.
Reem’s project focused on the sequencing of microRNAs, which are tiny bits of genetic material normally found in plants, animals, and some viruses and which are thought to silence the expression of genes. In particular, Reem came close to optimizing cutting-edge methods that scientists are starting to use in the study of microRNAs in single cells. But regardless of the result, the process was illuminating, she says. “The project demanded many long hours in and outside the lab, but I never thought of it as work, which made me realize that research is what I love to do,” Reem says. The experience challenged her to think critically about science and to answer her own questions before relying on others.
By summer’s end, Reem not only had become a miniexpert on the topic of her project but also came away with the confidence to pursue a PhD in the sciences, she says.
Reem aspires to blaze a path for other Arab American women by showing that a career in science is possible. So far, she has not encountered many Arab American women in the sciences—a fact she wants to change. “Once I establish my research career, I want to help Arab women build confidence to pursue STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] careers despite potential challenges and discouragement they may face in the future,” Reem says.
To learn more, please visit the Amgen Scholars Program 2014 Annual Report.
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