When people say NASA, we hear Astronomy, Physics, the universe, galaxies, planets, and things in that line. And today, we host a female African High-Energy Astrophysicist to walk us through her STEM journey.
Hi Hend, it is my pleasure to welcome you to this episode of Words That Count
Hi Winnie, it’s my pleasure to be here. Thank you for inviting me.
Please give us a brief introduction about yourself
My name is Hend Mahmoud Yassin Hamed from Egypt. I am currently a first-year P.h.D student in High-Energy Astrophysics and Junior Lecturer at North-West University (NWU) in South Africa.
You are the first Astrophysicist we are hosting! Tell us how you joined this unique world
I grew up in a middle-class family; my mom is a tailor who only got a primary school education. My dad is retired with a diploma in technical-industrial work. I finished my education in a public school with a 91% from high school. At first, I thought it was unfortunate that I couldn’t join the faculty of engineering back then just because society considered it a big achievement.
I finished my bachelor’s degree in Physics then got a pre-masters in Theoretical Physics. After that, I got the opportunity to join the African Institution for Mathematical Science (AIMS) in Rwanda. During my study at AIMS, one of my colleagues who was already doing her Ph.D. in South Africa sent me a Ph.D. opportunity with Dr. Oyiworth in Stellar Astrophysics. He supervised me during the AIMS research project and for another master’s at NWU later.
By the time I finished my MSc I was still thinking about my passion for high energy. I started to read some researchers’ work and contacted them asking about any opportunity to join their groups for a Ph.D. project. Lucky for me, Prof Christo Venter agreed to give me that opportunity. I consider it courage from him to accept a student who has just a little background in High-energy Astrophysics.
What has been the most challenging thing on your Astrophysics journey?
During the first year of my undergraduate, people around me advised me not to study physics. “You will never find any job in Egypt if you do Physics”, they said. I chose a double major study so that I could find a job! With the subjects I loved, I was able to get distinctions. I, however, failed to pass many courses on the other side. In my senior year, I figured out that I was passionate about Physics and Astronomy. I however did not have the information that I expected to have before graduation. This made me think of changing my major and staying two more years at the university.
Another challenge was that I did not have any Astronomical background when I started my first MSc. I had to start learning everything from scratch. Even now, I am doing the same in the High-Energy Astrophysics field.
One of the health challenges is that I am a type one diabetic. I am riding a roller coaster for 24 hours. Sometimes my strength in all this is something to be proud of but it does affect my progress if it is out of control.
How are you able to move forward through every difficulty?
I am passionate about the things I do. In my senior year, I had some philosophical ideas about the universe. I started connecting the information that I had together which made me want to learn more about Physics and Astronomy.
I am also passionate about teaching different ages and getting a higher degree gives me better chances to teach at the university.
What are some of the celebratory moments in your life?
This is a very tricky question, haha, because people evaluate their achievements differently. If you asked me this question a month ago I would say that I have no achievements! Today, I believe that I do have achievements when; I control my diabetes, I learn something new every day, I take care of my mental health, I get the code running without errors, and when my students remember that I taught them something.
Who are you outside work?
I am a cook, dancer, hiker, explorer, maker of leather handcrafts, and a learner of musical instruments.
What’s your favorite quote?
“It’s always impossible until it’s done” ~ Nelson Mandela
Lastly, a word of encouragement for a young girl in STEM
Believe in yourself, science has no gender and you can make a significant change.
Thank you, Hend, for accepting to add your voice to this cause. I am very proud of you and how far you have gone since we last met. I look forward to learning more about your future success.