It was three days before the big ceremony. Dr. Hasibun Naher had travelled from Bangladesh to Austin, Texas, where she would accept the OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Award for Women Scientists in the Developing World at the prestigious AAAS conference. Now, she and her fellow awardees gathered in the hotel boardroom to prepare their presentations: they would each have five minutes at the podium to talk about their research – what inspired them, the challenges they have overcome and their goals for the future.
But first they would introduce themselves. Hasibun, a mathematics professor, had a winning ice-breaker:
My name is Hasibun Naher – Hasibun meaning “one who calculates,” like my subject.
Amid laughter from her colleagues, she went on to reveal that her surname, Naher, means river – and indeed the water element would also come into play in her career.
What’s in a name?
Dr. Hasibun Naher talks about her name and how it became her destiny.
Her father, who was a teacher, did not realize that the name he gave her would become her destiny. “My father wanted me to be a doctor,” Hasibun said, “but when I finished primiarly school, I thought, ‘I want to be a doctor but not a medical doctor. I have to complete my PhD.’”
She loved mathematics and was inspired by her maternal uncle, who studied mathematics at the university. She also realized that math could be used to solve problems of science.
“Nowadays, the world has so many problems,” she said, “and as a mathematician, I can use mathematical modelling to solve these problems.”
With its long coastline and tropical monsoon climate, Bangladesh is extremely vulnerable to earthquakes and tsunamis, she explained. For that reason, she chose to focus her research on the simulation of tsunamis, to make better predictions of their behavior.
Now, Hasibun is Associate Professor of Mathematics in the Department of Mathematics and Natural Sciences at BRAC University in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where she was named Best Researcher in 2015. She has published many scientific papers in international journals in her research areas of partial differential equations and travelling waves, mathematical physics and mathematical biology, and she is the author of two books published by the Bangladesh National Curriculum and Textbook Board. She also serves as a member of scientific committees for several international conferences.
She works 16 or 17 hours a day, she said, including the time spent with her family.
“Every morning I cook for my family, and after returning home, I have to cook for my family,” she said. “I’m trying to do my best for my job and for my family.”
“As a female, I have to work as hard as men to show that we are equally competent,” she added.
But being a woman gives her another power: “As a mathematician in science, I can motivate many female students in my country; I can be a model for that young generation. Nowadays, students are very scared to do mathematics, so I have to encourage them, inspire them.”
Her first advice for women studying science is to master the basics: “Students should study properly and they should have proper knowledge to do their research in science.”
But she added that it’s never too early to start thinking of a problem you can solve with science: “As a student in high school, I thought, ‘I want to be a scientist in mathematics.’ And I thought, ‘What is my problem, and how can it be overcome? What is the solution?”
And beyond that, she said, have a plan. “We can do the best if we have a plan. I have to have a plan, and if I have a good plan, any obstacle can be stomped out.”
One obstacle she encounters is lack of funding for international travel, which is a common problem for many universities in developing countries. That makes it harder to attend conferences and collaborate internationally.
The OWSD-Elsevier Foundation award included funding to attend this major science conference while raising her international profile. For those reasons, she said it has made her more confident that she will achieve her goals by collaborating internationally with researchers from developed countries. “I am motivated more and more to fulfill my dream,” she said.
Still, there’s another dream she also speaks passionately about.
“Since my childhood, I have always thought about how to motivate female students in STEM to help them have prosperous lives in developing countries,” she said. “I hope this award helps me to fulfill that dream.”
Watch a video with the winners
For Women’s History Month in March, we are featuring outstanding women in science. This story is part of our series on the winners of the 2018 OWSD-Elsevier Foundaiton Award for Early Career Women Scientists in the Developing World.