• Fiona Chang

Interview with Dr. Yasmeen Hussain

Dr. Yasmeen Hussain is currently a program officer with the Washington State Academy of Sciences, which advises Washington State on issues in science and technology. She also does consulting on science and higher education policy. I got the opportunity to interview Dr. Hussain over a Zoom meeting and learn more about her passions and motives in not only STEM but also policy.

During this interview, we talked about Dr. Hussain's many interests pairing together to become the unique person she is today and how finding community helped her.

Q: Could you please introduce yourself? Just in general is fine.

A: "I was encouraged to do science early on... In high school I really enjoyed algebra and the idea of infinity and mathematics. I went to University of Utah as a math major, biology major, and also got a music minor."

After she received her PhD, Dr. Hussain went to Washington, D.C. at the National Academy of Sciences Board on Higher Education and Workforce, working on issues such as graduate education, mentoring, and sexual harassment for women in STEM. She also worked at the U.S. Congress for a year, specializing in issues such as science, technology, environment, and education, and followed that with a role advancing career and professional development of early career scientists. Now, she is a program officer at the Washington State Academy of Sciences.

Something that I found interesting was how Dr. Hussain continuously built onto her interests instead of changing routes - she's worked in mathematics, biology, education, and policy without really leaving one behind.

Q: When did you truly realize that you wanted to go into STEM, or even what you currently do today?

A: "There wasn't one big moment, but rather little things... going to Bring Your Child to Work Day, growing seeds in science class, being interested in scabs. I enjoyed math class and didn't think of it as bland or boring..."

Science wasn't the only thing she was interested in, though. Dr. Hussain also had interests in service learning, music, policy, and science education., eventually taking on a music minor in college.

"Often we're asked to choose... there's the idea of ‘Humanities vs. Science' but writing is actually really important in science."

"What I do today is a culmination of what has been interesting over time."

Q: Did you ever notice the division between males and females interested in STEM? If so, what were your thoughts back then?

A: "There's a lot of focus on younger students and making sure girls are supported, for example science education for middle school girls. Some of that is really important especially in middle school, but that's only part of it... it doesn't get much better as people go on"

Dr. Hussain mentions here about not just getting girls interested in science, but also keeping them in the field.

"When I got to college, I was in a group of 5 women in my physics class of 200 students, with only 2 other women in the class. Are we setting up academic systems in an inclusive way?”

Q: Do you have any anecdotes, positive or negative, that you’d like to share?

A: "I was moving back to Seattle after working in Washington, D.C. It was challenging to find policy work in Seattle. I found a network where there were women willing to talk to you..."

"I talked to dozens of women working in science and policy, and around 80% of the people they recommended were also women in awesome positions... it was neat to get to know this community."

This reminds her that women have power - that networking is more than just the people we know in our comfort area. We have to include women of color, people with different gender identities, or in different socioeconomic statuses. Include more people!

We closed off our talk with a discussion about the generational divide. Often, the "lean in" idea was encouraged in the past - but now, more than ever, is the time to change an inequitable system instead of asking people to lean in.

It was my pleasure to be able to interview Dr. Hussain. I hope that hearing her story showed the endless possibilities that STEM comes with. How the little things can turn into a passion, but keeping that passion is often overlooked by the system.

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