To my 20 year old self,
You will soon be graduating university with biomedical engineering as your major. I’m happy to tell you that as I write to you today, on International Women in Engineering Day in 2021, you are a Project Manager for an engineering consultancy in Vancouver, Canada. You are leading a team of 16 engineers and scientists as a circle lead. You have worked hard to get here and that hard work has been rewarding – but the road you’re embarking on won’t always be easy.
You have heard from some individuals during your university years that you have no business being a woman in engineering; that, given the limited opportunities available to study engineering, a man should have gotten a chance to study instead of you. You will need to keep on ignoring those voices and instead pay attention to those who encourage you as you enter the job market. It will be tough to find a place for yourself.
Looking for better opportunities, at 23 you will leave Pakistan and move to Canada. As an immigrant woman with a foreign degree and no work experience, it will be difficult getting your foot in the door in a new country and you will face many stumbling blocks. Despite all of the setbacks, you will keep putting yourself out there.
Eventually you’ll reach out to a few established women in engineering who are happy to make time for you; this includes Nancy Paris, a researcher at BCIT and an accomplished woman in mechanical engineering. Nancy will take your call when nobody else is answering, give you advice, and refer you to colleagues who may be able to help you in your job search. Through a series of calls you will finally land an informational interview at a company called VSM MedTech.
I know you are shy, introverted, and don’t like to draw attention to yourself, but when the moment calls, you will be assertive and confident in what you are asking for. You will meet with VSM MedTech, tell them about your experience, and eventually they will hire you for your first industry job as a biomedical engineer.
From there, you will take on several roles at different companies. As a naturally curious person, you will continue to learn by volunteering for tasks and projects outside your job description, and take on leadership roles that push you out of your comfort zone.
Even though it looks impossible now, you will finish graduate studies at the University of British Columbia with a 2 year old in your arms. You will have a daughter and navigate a new balance between your career and motherhood. It will teach you patience and how to set boundaries in your life, and you’ll continue learning to be more assertive and to ask for what you need.
Where you work and what you work on will be intrinsically linked to your guiding principle of making the world a better place. Your job at MistyWest will allow you to exercise the right to veto projects that you find are ethically concerning; reminding you of when, before starting university, your father told you about the great opportunities you’ll have to make a positive impact in the world through biomedical engineering. Being a mother will also help drive you to be a role model who is a force for good in the world.
If I can give you any advice, 20 year old Farheen, it’s to stay determined. Keep working hard, even when it feels like there’s no road ahead for a woman in engineering. Always be open to learning new things. Look out for opportunities and go after them; don’t wait for anyone to bring them to you.
Don’t be afraid to ask for more. Don’t be afraid to be passionate. Don’t be afraid to be ambitious. It’s not a dirty word. The girl in ninth grade who loved math and science will ultimately be rewarded for her ambition and perseverance. You just wait.