Interview with Zainab Imtiaz Ali, Materials Researcher at Honda R&D America's - Female Role Model in STEM
Zainab is from Lahore. She completed her high school (O-levels) from Beaconhouse School System, Defence Campus in 2008. Then she moved to the USA with her family, where she studied ‘Engineering Science’ at Hudson Valley Community College, from where she got Associate of Science degree in Engineering science with a stellar 4.0 GPA. Later, she got her Bachelor of Science degree and Master of Engineering degree in Mechanical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She is a member of the Pi Tau Sigma (International Mechanical engineering honor society). In her junior year, she interned at an Automotive company "Honda R&D America's", in their Interior Design department, and following two summers she did internship at their Materials Research department. As she graduated, the firm offered her a full-time job at their Materials Research department. Now, as a Material Research Engineer, she works on new material technologies, concept cars, and materials strategy.
Zainab has been a friend of WEP and an avid supporter for a very long time. Her constant push towards betterment, not just of herself but of others around her, makes her an amazing role model and mentor for many young girls. Here is an excerpt from an interview with Zainab:
Women Engineers Pakistan: What were your favorite subjects in school? Did these subjects help you do the job that you do today?
Zainab Imtiaz: Math and Physics. Basically, what we learn from school is to develop problem solving skills. It is the most important skill for engineering professionals!
WEP: What motivated you to choose the career that you have today? What were the biggest barriers?
ZI: My father was an entrepreneur, he had small gloves factory in the basement of our house. So we grew up playing with tools, watching dad fixing machines, and not shying away from dirty hands. This was the main motivation for me for choosing engineering as my career, specifically mechanical engineering. Another reason was that I was good in math and science (common for most engineers). I didn't have as many barriers in pursuing my career, as I have been lucky that I always got good mentors in school, college, and in my current company.
WEP: Did you have any role models growing up? What was the one important character trait in them that inspired you?
ZI: Yes, I had role models while growing up. Initially, my father was my role model as I learnt perseverance and math skills from him. During college years, my engineering professor Prof. Ernest was my role model. I learnt how being female is not an obstacle in any STEM career. I learnt to be strong in men majority fields from her, as well as self confidence, and believing in one's career goals. She always encouraged me. At my workplace, my role model is my chief engineer, as he has a trait of having a challenging spirit, as well as dedication towards his dreams for the company and for himself.
WEP: How do you handle barriers towards progress now that you are in the professional field? What would you like to see newcomer girls excel at?
ZI: Perseverance is THE major tool for me for my progression. I remember, while looking for an internship, I gave 12 interviews in the same semester and only one company offered me an internship. In work field also, there are many challenges. Key is to be flexible, and to be open to learn any new technologies, tactics, skills etc. Don't be afraid of failure.
For newcomer girls my advice is to work hard and keep your GPA high, in competitive market it is important. Also it paves the path for further education like MS and PhD. Do internships no matter if they are paid or unpaid in your field. Internships are a very powerful tool, which give you insight of the real world. And lastly, develop soft skills like networking, communication, management etc. while developing STEM skills.