Women for a better working world
Written by Dr Tanweer Beleil, Developmental Biologist at Imperial College London

My name is Tanweer Beleil. As a mother and a scientist, on this International Women’s Day, I would like to grab the opportunity to express my admiration for all women, who have had to put their professional careers on hold in order to raise their families. I would like to share my story and hope that it will inspire other women in that; it’s never too late to resume their career. We should be proud of all that we do and deserve recognition for raising our families by being given opportunities for high-flying careers when we are ready. We women absolutely have a lot to offer, not only in the workplace, but also most importantly in fields that matter.

In November of 2018, I joined Dr David MacIntyre and Professor Phillip Bennett’s team as a research associate at the Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology, Imperial College London. This opportunity was made available to me after being awarded the Daphne Jackson Fellowship, sponsored by Imperial College London and the Genesis Research Trust. The goal of this fellowship is to help female scientists resume their careers after long breaks. The reasons for these career breaks are varied but often due to circumstances beyond our control.

Prior to my ten-year career break, I was pursuing a high-flying career in Reproductive Molecular Biology. I was awarded the Gates Cambridge Scholarship for my achievement at University, which sponsored my MPhil degree at the University of Cambridge. I then went on to complete my PhD in Reproductive Molecular Research, also at the University of Cambridge. However, it was not all smooth sailing. Towards the end of my PhD, my eldest daughter was born prematurely at only 31 weeks of gestation. She weighed less than a kilogram and stayed in hospital for two months. This led to my PhD studies being delayed. As if the terrifying experience of having a premature daughter wasn’t traumatic enough, at the age of three, she was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. That just changed our perspective as a new family and adjusted our priorities. I made the decision to postpone my research career to dedicate my time and fully support my eldest daughter. I then went on to have two more children.

I was glad to be at home with my children during this crucial period. I developed new interests and trained in social behaviour and communication, speech and language skills, sensory integration and applied behaviour analysis to support my daughter. Thanks to my daughter and her support requirements, I was a school governor and chair of the special educational needs committee.

I found myself in a better position to resume my scientific career when my eldest daughter demonstrated good progress and my other children were at school. Finding an opportunity in academic work, after such a lengthy break, was very challenging, to say the least. It took me almost two years, but I was determined and driven by my passion for research in the field of preterm birth, an area that became very close to my heart.

The focus of my research fellowship is understanding the role of vaginal infection (bacterial/ fungal) during pregnancy, and determine if and how infection in the vagina can move up the reproductive tract to reach the amniotic sac and fetus. This will hopefully provide us with better understanding as to how reproductive tract infection can cause preterm birth, which is the largest cause of death of under-fives worldwide and survivors often suffer significant motor and sensory deficits, respiratory disorders and/or learning disabilities. Detailed knowledge of the mechanisms causing infection associated preterm birth will enable advancements to be made in early diagnosis and the development of patient specific, targeted treatment approaches.

Although I didn’t think twice when decided to put my career on hold at the time, as the years went by, I was often filled with many “what ifs?”.

We live in a society that often under-appreciates, and takes for granted, stay-at-home mums. I felt like all the years poured into my studies were worthless and my confidence was almost gone. Would my personal circumstances become a hindrance?

Life is not supposed to be neat and orderly. We all face different obstacles and have our own personal battles to fight.

As difficult as it was for me to resume my career after a ten-year break, I am always aware of how extremely lucky I am, even with all the obstacles I faced. There are still women who have not received the same opportunities as me and do not have the same support system as me. This is dedicated to all those women, who feel like they are in a hopeless situation and will never be able to find their way back to their career.

I have been able to use my personal experience with premature birth to inspire my research. Would my research have taken me down this path, had I not had a personal connection with the research matter? I’ll never know for sure but I do know that if my research can help at least one woman, then it will have all been worth it.

Tanweer Beleil’s inspiring message for International Women’s Day 2019

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  1. Ridda

    One of the most inspiring stories I’ve read. Reading your story is like being washed with a wave of motivation, inspiration and willingness to learn. You’re a great person to look up to.

    • Maha

      A great inspiration tano proud of your accomplishments

    • Arig

      To the woman who never failed to impress I am sure that everyone will wish you all the best that you truly deserve ,I admire your strength and salute you and your lovely husband for being passionate parents and great friends.

    • Ishraga Awad

      A most fine example of determination, courage, compassion and strength of purpose and reason all in one wonderful woman.
      Thanks a lot for sharing your story to inspire many other wonderful women waiting patiently to get the opportunity to progress after a career break.
      And best wishes for unhindered progress and breakthrough insights into the problem of pre term birth to find solutions.
      I am sure your children will be so proud of you.

  2. Katrien Brusselle

    My wonderful friend Tanweer
    Congratulations with your achievements!
    Very proud of you… you did not give up with all the ups and downs
    An inspiration to other young women scientists!

  3. asha

    Tanweer, I am proud of you! You are one woman who deserves recognition on this special day. Love you and your young family. Stay well.
    aunt asha musa.

  4. Ammar Abubakr Abbas

    The ability to reflect and utilise one’s difficult experience to build upon and share positive outcomes with others to give them hope is certainly a God given blessing. It is also clearly infectious and you may have probably caught it from your late father who changed careers to become a transplant specialist after receiving a kidney himself. The true inspiration is the ability to transform hardship into positive momentum. Keep it going Tanweer (clue is in the Arabic translation of your name Subhan Allah). God bless you, your amazing husband and your children!

  5. Reem Abbas

    You’re certainly an inspiration Tanweer. So many ladies need to hear your story and I’ll share it with as many as I can. You’re an acheiver “genetically” and a wonderful mother. All the best. You deserve it!

  6. Ishraga Awad

    A most fine example of determination, courage, compassion and strength of purpose and reason all in one wonderful woman.
    Thanks a lot for sharing your story to inspire many other wonderful women waiting patiently to get the opportunity to progress after a career break.
    And best wishes for unhindered progress and breakthrough insights into the problem of pre term birth to find solutions.
    I am sure your children will be so proud of you – just as all of us are.

  7. Maha

    Very inspirational and motivational ??Wish u and ur beautiful family best of luck and may all ur dreams come true

  8. Sarah A. Salam

    Very inspiring!! Thanks for sharing your strong faith, peace with oneself, determination, perseverance and your amazing attitude to continue help humanity with all that you can!

  9. علويه جمال محمد احمد Alawiyya Jamal

    Dearest Tanwier, to join the others in expressing my admiration is so inadequate, what you omitted to cover how you where a support to your fellow women in thier very difficult time in the midst of your very challenging time. Your reach is very much needed , autism has infested more homes than you can imagine, I intend to share with those who are finding it impossible to cope . With great admiration and greater respect. You make your family , friends and country.

  10. durria hassan

    “Life is not supposed to be neat and orderly”; yes that is true. Through facing challenges we can reach our goals but never give up.

  11. suzy

    I would like to thank you for telling your story, now I have a hope that one day I will get back to my career.

  12. Hannah cock

    Amazing and inspirational story


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