Women of STEM

A profile series highlighting women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math

Meriame Berboucha, MRes (Photonics) Student, Forbes Contributor, Science Mixtape producer, Imperial College London and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Meriame Berboucha, MRes (Photonics) Student, Forbes Contributor, Science Mixtape producer, Imperial College London and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Meriame Berboucha, MRes (Photonics) Student, Forbes Contributor, Science Mixtape producer, Imperial College London and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Connect with Meriame on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, or her website or blog. Read Meriame’s Forbes articles here.

What do you do?

Next term I’ll be going to the SLAC National Acceleratory Laboratory to carry out my MRes project. I’ll be working with high power lasers, where I’ll be using a special technique to characterise (i.e. find out the properties) of the ‘structure’ of the laser beam. From this I can work out ways to optimise the laser for maximum performance! On top of my research, I write physics related articles for Forbes, and I’m a producer for the Science Mixtape show which airs every Saturday morning on Soho Radio.

What does a day in the life look like for you?

Most days are spent in the lab doing experiments and working with LASERS! Lasers, to me, are one of the coolest creations! With lasers, you can recreate extreme conditions such as those found in stars and also image objects. I also spend a lot of time reading papers and keeping a record of the work I do in my lab book. By reading papers, I can learn more physics that will help further my research. Another part of my day is science communication, which mostly involves taking selfies in the lab and posting them on my social media platforms so that others can see what it’s like doing a science experiment. I also try and film Facebook live videos as an insight into my science life.

On top of this, most Saturdays I help produce the Science Mixtape radio show where different scientists and mathematicians are interviewed each week. Science Mixtape offers an insight into scientists’ lives and musical tastes. I also put aside a few hours of my week to write a physics-related article for Forbes. It’s lovely to be able to share the science I love with Forbes’ large audience.

What is the coolest part of your job?

For me, working with lasers is just the coolest thing. The lasers I work with are so high power that they can start a fire, but don’t worry we always think about safety first. In the past, I’ve used lasers to take pictures of plasma, the stuff that the Sun is made of, for laboratory astrophysics experiments. This is where the conditions of space are recreated in the lab. For this experiment, I was trying to recreate the conditions around baby stars, one of the coolest research projects I’ve done to date! I’ve also seen objects being levitated by lasers - it honestly looked like something from a movie!

I also love building things so being able to build my own piece of equipment is my favourite thing. I normally blast some afrojazz, tropical house, or Spanish music in the lab whilst I’m building my experimental setup, it’s almost therapeutic!

What kinds of challenges did you overcome/face to get to where you are now?

For me, one of the biggest challenges I’ve had to face is the fact that I’m a minority in my field. As a woman in physics, I am one of few women taking physics at higher education and beyond. During my undergraduate studies, about 23% of the undergraduate students were women. During my A levels, I was the only girl in my class to take physics and I had friends that would say things like ‘you’re clever, you should do medicine’ or ‘why do you even like physics’. I ended up being one of the first women from my school to take physics onto higher education, as a result, I felt the need to go back to my old school and inspire the younger generation by starting my own Science Club. By the second year, half of my students were girls! Since, then I’ve been a promoter of women in physics and participate in many women in STEM events and it’s also one of the reasons why I got into science communication. I wanted to show other women that they can do physics too and that it’s not a ‘guy’ subject.

At university, I found other women who were interested in physics and it was nice to not be the only girl in the class. There’s also a ‘Women in Physics’ society which is a community of all the women in the physics department who support each other.

Do you have advice on how to move up in your field?

For me, organisation has been key. Keeping a work-life balance and structuring your day so that you can work efficiently has helped me a lot. Every night before I go to bed, I try and make a to-do list for the next day with things I’d like to achieve as well as how I can achieve them. For instance, I would write down something like I need to write my introduction section in my lab report and then continue to write which papers I need to read, what I’d like to include in the section, etc. This way, I have a clear idea of what I want to do the next day and I get to wake up the next day with a mission.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions! Before I used to be too shy to ask questions because I thought I was just asking stupid questions. But I soon realised that asking questions would only help me progress and prevent me from staying stuck on a problem for too long. Collaboration is an important thing in science, when great minds come together you can create wonderful things so asking questions and having discussions will only help you progress in the right direction.

Do you have any media to recommend?

I would definitely recommend watching the Christmas lectures filmed by the Royal Institution. They always leave me feeling inspired and wanted to do more science! A bit of self-promo here (sorry!), but definitely check out Science Mixtape, you’ll hear the voices of real scientists, and get to know more about their awesome research and musical tastes, helping to give a voice to scientists.

I’d also recommend following scientists on social media, particularly on Instagram, it’s a great way of finding out what it’s like to be a scientist and what we get up to on a daily basis. Here are some great accounts to follow: @emmanigma_ @science.sam @thestemsquad @phd_fashionista @scigirlsash @ceribrenner @phdomics @sohp.talks.science @thephysicsgirl @sciencebeaut @michellembarboza

Dr Sheila Kanani, Education, Outreach and Diversity Officer at the Royal Astronomical Society

Dr Sheila Kanani, Education, Outreach and Diversity Officer at the Royal Astronomical Society

Elif Tuba Appavuravther, MSc, Structural engineer at IS-YAPI and part-time researcher at Manisa Celal Bayar University

Elif Tuba Appavuravther, MSc, Structural engineer at IS-YAPI and part-time researcher at Manisa Celal Bayar University