To celebrate International Women’s Day, the theme of which is “breaking the bias”, we feature an alumna who has overcome obstacles to obtain an education that has empowered her to become the woman she is today. We are honoured to have Naima as our featured alumna for the month of March. Naima graduated with an MSc in Biotherapeutics in 2019 from the School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science.
- What is one of the most memorable or important experiences that you had at UCD?
I have so many wonderful memories and experiences – spending time with friends and classmates, especially in the lab where we spent about 6 months working on our thesis. Or relaxing together in the Conway Institute during our breaks! When the weather was nice we would go to the woods or ‘the secret lake’.
- You had to overcome many obstacles to make it to third-level education – does that impact the value you place on education?
Not everybody gets opportunities to access third level education and it’s not easy, many students face challenges. I know how valuable education is and I will never take it for granted.
- How did you end up in your current area of work?
My current area of work is completely different from my educational background. When I graduated from UCD in 2019, I wasn’t eligible to apply for work, though it has changed since then and I have a work permit now. I claimed international protection in Ireland and have been living in a direct provision centre for the last 7 years. I have been volunteering my time working with the residents (both adults and children), coordinating different activities, events, etc, representing their needs and supporting them. I stepped down from my position as chairperson of the resident’s committee a couple of months ago. That’s how I ended up working in my current area because I have been volunteering with asylum seekers and refugees. I have realised that I love working with people. So when I was offered a job, I accepted it.
At present, I’m working part-time as a homework support and activities coordinator for the kids living in a direct provision centre. I am also starting another job in two weeks’ time with Sanctuary Runners as a Regional Development Officer for Dublin, Meath and Louth.
- Was it a straightforward process to seek out your scholarship to UCD?
Yes, I would say so. Applying for a scholarship was a simple process overall for me. UCD was granted University of Sanctuary status in 2018 and I was part of the very first batch of students who were awarded a Sanctuary Scholarship. When I first received my acceptance letter from UCD, there was a bit of confusion with the University thinking I was applying from overseas; thankfully it was sorted pretty quickly.
- What interests you the most about your job?
I’m providing homework support to kids between the ages of 6-15 and also coordinating different activities for them. What interests me the most is knowing that I’m somehow making a difference in their lives (however small it may be).
- You are from Pakistan originally – moving first to Manchester and then Ireland – what were some of the biggest culture shocks you experienced?
Weather and food, but it didn’t take me long to get used to my new surroundings. Once I made friends and got myself involved in the local community, I felt pretty much at home.
- What do you think your career priorities will be in 10 years’ time?
I would like to get involved in biopharmaceuticals, especially in regulatory affairs. At the same time though I could see myself working with marginalised communities, particularly homeless people.
- Who are the most interesting or helpful mentors or advisors that you have had?
I have come across many helpful mentors and advisors along the way. All my mentors in the School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science in UCD were wonderful. The most memorable one that I would like to mention is Ms Mary Doran who was a great help throughout my lab project and masters thesis at UCD. She was always there to patiently listen and her guidance and support were invaluable to me.
- What advice would you give to someone who is just beginning their career?
My advice would be to go for the career you have a passion for and give it 100% always. Believe in yourself and don’t be afraid to go after your dreams. Be open to upskilling, further training and new opportunities.
- What is life outside work like?
I’m getting married in less than a month so at the moment I’m busy planning my wedding, and it is a very exciting time for me and my fiancé.
- How have your life experiences impacted the way in which you see the world?
They have taught me not to take anything in life for granted. I lost my mum at an early age and I have learned that we should never take our parents and loved ones for granted. We can always learn from the rough times in our lives. Also, since I have become a Christian, I see the world through a different lens. I have gone through some really difficult times, but I know that joy always comes and that God gives me strength.
- What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
The best piece of advice that I’ve been given is to always have joy in the journey. Life might not be easy, and we are always going to go through tough times and we might not be at our destination yet but never forget to enjoy where you are right now.
- Describe yourself in three words?
Trustworthy, Empathetic, Resilient
To find out more about Naima’s experiences check out this Irish Times article here