Skip to main content

Unfortunately we don't fully support your browser. If you have the option to, please upgrade to a newer version or use Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, or Safari 14 or newer. If you are unable to, and need support, please send us your feedback.

Publish with us

Inès Esma Achouri

Assistant Professor, University of Sherbrooke, Canada


Esma Ines Achouri is Assistant professor at the University of Sherbrooke, Canada. With her multidisciplinary background, she faces the challenges of the sustainable energy production and usage by finding ways to enhance energy efficiency and reduce waste in pharmaceutical manufacturing. “Don’t doubt yourself or wait until you feel sure you’ll succeed“ is what she would say to her younger self. Doing research in Canada is one of the things she is most proud of, due to the funding and global collaboration opportunities.


Brief intro, your background (education/research) and briefly mention your research area (why did you choose to orient your research towards process intensification?)

I am a pharmaceutical engineer who completed a master’s in biomedical engineering and then pursued a PhD in chemical engineering. I have studied at five different universities, working with various researchers and professors, and I've learned valuable lessons from each of them. I obtained the bachelor’s degree in Pharmaceutical Engineering Algeria, the master’s in biomedical and Pharmaceutical Engineering in France, the PhD in Chemical Engineering at the University of Sherbrooke, and the post-doc at Montréal. I have been professor for three and a half years now, at the University of Sherbrooke. I primarily focus on sustainable energy, using non-thermal plasma to avoid high temperatures in processes like reforming for producing synthetic liquids and hydrocarbons. I also work on drying pharmaceuticals, addressing the high carbon footprint of the pharma industry. The industry is traditionally resistant to change, but we are finding ways to improve energy efficiency and reduce waste in pharmaceutical manufacturing. Largely, my work aims to make processes smarter and more energy-efficient, contributing to a more sustainable future.

I chose process intensification because it bridges these different fields, allowing me to apply all the knowledge I gained during my studies.

The major challenge facing society today is energy. I believe process intensification can address this by making traditional processes more efficient and reducing waste, or by developing new, more efficient alternatives. This approach can offer to both those resistive to change and those eager for energy transition.

As a woman, I initially thought I had to choose between having a family and a successful career. I have always loved research, whether in academia or industry, but I also wanted a family. Balancing these seemed difficult, but with the right partner, it is possible. Choosing the right people around you is crucial. They should support you mentally, physically, and be there when you need to talk. Often, just discussing your problems helps you find solutions. Humans are incredibly adaptable, and with the right connections and friends, you can overcome challenges.

What challenges do you face / what do you see as the challenges and barriers to making engineering/applied chemistry more inclusive for female academics/engineers?

Unfortunately, in North America at least, engineering is still seen as a predominantly male field. This is partly because fewer women pursue these disciplines, resulting in a lack of a supportive network for those who do. For instance, in some of our classes, there might be five women among 30 men, which highlights the gender imbalance. However, significant efforts have been made by governments and universities to address this imbalance. Hiring women professors in engineering used to be challenging due to traditional evaluation criteria focused on the number of publications and grants. Now, the process is more inclusive, considering factors like career interruptions, international experience, and other achievements. This change has helped diversify the field. For example, I benefited from these new criteria, as my career had been delayed due to pregnancies during my PhD and postdoc, and I had obtained a patent that limited my publications.

This shift in evaluation is crucial because it acknowledges the unique challenges women face and allows them to demonstrate their potential differently. For instance, universities now ask about research plans and teaching proposals rather than just listing publications and grades. This approach helps showcase a candidate's broader capabilities.

Initially, I was unsure about balancing a career and family. My PhD supervisor encouraged me, emphasizing that having the ability and the right mindset mattered more than the potential obstacles. Now, as a professor with a research group of about 20 students, 80% of whom are women, I strive to offer the same encouragement and support.

I advise my students to build connections and seek opportunities beyond just academics. Good networking can open doors to desirable positions in academia and industry. This perspective is especially important for girls from countries like Algeria, where the focus is often solely on academic performance. A successful career involves making connections and exploring various opportunities.

What advice would you give to your younger self as an early career woman embarking on a career in academia and in chemistry/chemical biology (chemical engineering) - process?

To my younger self, I would say: don’t wait. As long as you meet the requirements for a job, go for it. Don’t doubt yourself or wait until you feel completely sure you’ll succeed – just give it a try. For me, waiting was a mistake. I should have pursued academia sooner.

For young women starting their careers, don't focus solely on getting good grades. Communicate well, build strong connections, and seek good mentors. A successful career in engineering isn't just about mastering technical skills; it's also about knowing the right people, whether in government, companies, or academia.

Finding the right mentor is crucial. If your current professor isn't a good fit for you, it's okay to change. It's never too late to switch mentors, research subjects, or even universities. When we're young, a three-year PhD feels like a huge commitment, but as you get older, you realize it's just a small part of your career. If something doesn’t make you happy, you can always change your path.

From a personal perspective, what achievement (or achievements) are you most proud of in terms of your work or career?

In terms of my career, what I am most proud of is being able to pursue the research I am passionate about in such an open and supportive environment. Being in Canada, especially Quebec, has been incredible. Academia here works on the principle that the sky is the limit. If you have an idea, there are various ways to secure funding to explore it. You’re not restricted to a specific field or limited by infrastructure. As long as you're willing to put in the effort, there are always opportunities to realize your research goals. I'm particularly proud that I stayed in this environment. It's very encouraging for pioneering research, without the barriers or control that can suppress innovation. In Algeria, research funding is scarce, and in Europe, space constraints can limit research scope. But here in Canada, you can describe the potential impacts of your work, both locally and internationally, and find support. For instance, I am part of three Horizon projects involving 18 European countries. This collaborative approach ensures our research has a global impact, addressing international issues like energy challenges. Working together without competition, focusing on shared problems, accelerates progress.

Interview with Prof Inès Esma Achouri