Published 29 June 2019 by Ulrike Böhm

Women in Research at #LINO19: Rola Dbouk from Lebanon

This interview is part of a series of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists participating in the 69th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting to increase the visibility of women in research (find more information on Facebook and Twitter).

#LINO19 young scientist Rola from Lebanon is a Master student at the American University of Beirut (AUB). Rola has specialised her research in the field of astrophysics, and her current work includes spin-orbit dynamics in the solar system and extrasolar systems, in addition to studies of cometary dynamics. Enjoy the interview with Rola and get inspired:

What inspired you to pursue a career in science?

Back at school, I always found the physics sessions extremely interesting. As a result, my physics teachers continuously encouraged my willingness to go in for a career in physics. By the time I was in high school, I was determined to pursue this career as a physicist for I was sure I will always enjoy this endless journey of understanding the universe.

Who are your role models?

Ever since I was younger, I had one role model: my mom. She is a working mother who raised my two siblings and I and taught us to follow our ambitions and helped us pave our ways into a promising future in science.
Besides my personal role model, choosing a science role model was not easy; however, upon the recent release of the first image of a black hole in April of 2019, I was impressed by the contributions done by Katie Bouman, an American computer scientist working in the field of imaging. Her enthusiasm, amazing work, along with her emphasis on the importance of team work in science gave me no choice but to choose her as my science role model.


Photo/Credit: Rola Dbouk

How did you get to where you are in your career path?

I pursued my undergraduate physics degree at AUB where I still am. During those three years, I encountered professors who through their amazing teaching skills and passion for their work helped me expand my knowledge. Then, I decided to continue my master’s degree at AUB where both professors Jihad Touma and Leonid Klushin have been always supportive in guiding me through my research.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?

My ongoing thesis work is in fact the coolest project I have worked on. As a basic case in my work I had to understand the spin-orbit dynamics of the moon-earth system before I proceed to studying different systems. The study of this first example was beautiful because it deals with the system we live in. The fact that we can, by a simple telescope, see the moon and check for example that it only shows one face towards earth made me want to dig deeper in this study and made it more exciting.

What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself/your work?

During last fall semester, I had taken a course on computational physics, which was one of my favourite courses. As a final project in that course I was required to simulate polymer chains and calculate the pressure these brushes exerted on a microscopic level. This project was already launched, and long codes were previously written by my colleagues, but for me, taking what was already there and proceeding in a programming language I wasn’t familiar with was a huge challenge. At the end, presenting my new results and knowing that my professor found my findings successful and promising was when I felt most proud of myself.

What is a ‘day in the life’ of Rola like?

One typical day of my life would be going to university to attend my classes, give my lab sessions, and attend any science related events taking place on campus. I spend the rest of my day doing research. Some days may include a walk or a gym visit.

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

I enjoy explaining and teaching physics just as much as I enjoy learning it; I have discovered this in my experience as a lab instructor at AUB, and I am looking forward to becoming a physics professor so that I can combine my passion for physics and for teaching.

What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?

The time during which I am not doing research is either spent with friends, family, or at the gym. I also like to spend some time in outdoor activities that I feel are essential to keep me going forward; so, from time to time I go hiking and participate in stargasing events when available.


Photo/Credit: Rola Dbouk

What advice do you have for other women interested in science?

As long as interest is always accompanied by hard work, you will definitely pave the way to succeed and enjoy a career in the wonders of physics and science!

In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in physics?

50 years after the success of Apollo 11 mission, humans aim at re-landing on the moon, this time accelerating the process of landing on Mars! These landings accompanied with building structures that can withstand the completely different environments would tremendously enhance space exploration to a whole new level. Although the moon landing is not expected till 2024 whereby we might witness several breakthroughs in science, but in my opinion, these landings are the ones I would be looking forward to.

What should be done to increase the number of female scientists and female professors?

We can start by connecting the current female scientists via international conferences that highlight their work; this would send a message to all young females interested in science encouraging them to choose a career in this path. Also, holding summits and events with youth females as target audience would directly engage them in the field.

Ulrike Böhm

Ulrike Boehm is a physicist and science enthusiast. She works as an optical scientist at ZEISS in Oberkochen, Germany. Previously, she did her Ph.D. studies at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen in the Department of NanoBiophotonics of Nobel Laureate Stefan Hell, followed by research stays in the US at the National Institutes of Health and HHMI’s Janelia Research Campus, developing tools for biomedical research. She is generally passionate about designing and building (optical) instruments to image, probe, and manipulate (biological) structures. Furthermore, she is passionate about science communication and open science and is a huge advocate for women in science.