Female role models at Birzeit University: Sanade Barakat

From Marie Curie’s seminal work on radioactivity and discovery of polonium and radium to Barbara McClintock’s discovery of mobile genetic elements –  the “jumping genes” – to Dorothy Hodgkin’s research on the structure of penicillin and vitamin B12, the world owes a great deal of its development and progress to women who dared to defy society’s predetermined roles for women and lead humanity to great discoveries and ever greater achievements.

Birzeit University, in honor of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, is celebrating its female scientists, researchers, and academics - those who light the way forward with their ingenuity and creativity.

Sanade Barakat, a teaching and research assistant in the Department of Biology and Biochemistry, is one of those leading luminaries. She is proof that one can balance leading a successful career in science and raise a beautiful family.

What follows is Sanade’s experience, in her own words, at Birzeit University: her dreams, aspirations, and outlooks both as an aspiring scientist and a trailblazing female role model.

For as far back as I can remember, I have always had an appreciation for education and science. I remember myself in second grade watching our classroom caterpillars in awe as they were forming their cocoons right before our eyes. Even then I knew I wanted to learn anything and everything about this amazing world around me.

Majoring in Biology at BZU did exactly that for me. In 2013 after graduating, I published my first article in Springer, titled “RAPD Assessment of In Vivo-Induced Genotoxicity of Raw and Treated Wastewater to Albino Rats”. This past year I worked with an inspirational professor of mine, Prof. Khaled Swaileh, as we took that research one step further and observed whether treated wastewater used for irrigation purposes affects the genes of animals.

Being the longest serving teaching assistant in the department, I have happily taught countless labs in the biology department at BZU and assisted in reviewing, compiling and editing several lab manuals as well, all of which our students currently use in undertaking their studies.

I offer presentations and workshops for students looking to learn techniques on presenting and assembling scientific research, all while working on another research project - assessing the occurrence of a gene in local cows that stimulates the production of a potentially harmful protein found in milk, and which has been associated with many diseases - with two great instructors, Dr. Ahed Bahader and Dr. Mahmoud Srour.

In short, I have kept pretty busy and, in the midst of all that, earned a scholarship from BZU to study for my masters in Environmental Biology. I am just about finishing up my thesis, which focuses on screening for a fungal toxin called aflatoxin in food items marketed in Palestinian markets and means of remediation from this toxin.

I have always been an overachiever and no step forward is ever enough to satisfy my appetite for knowledge and challenge. This has always been the case but nearly four years ago, the world gave me an entirely new take on my drive for success: my daughter Salma was born. My fire to succeed and grow has never been so great. Watching my daughter grow has boosted my intentions to move forward. Little girls, including mine, need to see more women in science overcoming the struggles and barriers placed by society.

They need to see their mothers, sisters, aunts, and female friends set career goals and strive towards being the best versions of themselves. Being a loving mother and a science junkie are not two separate lives; I am living proof. That said, it has been far from an easy task. I have been blessed with parents and a husband who have created for me a great support system to lean on when things get out of control - because they certainly can.

Unfortunately, not all women who wish to pursue their love for science can say the same. Looking back at my early years, I notice the small details and huge sacrifices my own mother crafted to make sure my sisters and I had every opportunity to succeed with the limits imposed by society.

My hopes are that my little girl will look back one day and realize my time away from her between studying and working were all to set the stage for her to do anything she truly loves to do. This is something we as mothers and fathers need to instill in our girls from a young age and above all my achievements, this will be my most beloved one.