Women Who Reign: Nabiha Saklayen
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” — Nelson Mandela
Tell us about yourself along with a fun fact!
Hi! I’m Nabiha Saklayen, a PhD Candidate in Physics at Harvard University. I have lived and breathed science since I was a 2nd grader, and I am super excited and humbled to be graduating with a PhD this May. I grew up traveling the world with my parents, which has left me with a kaleidoscopic worldview that sees beyond race, religion, or gender. I went to college at Emory University in Atlanta before moving to Boston for graduate school. For my PhD I am developing new nanotechnologies to cure blood diseases like HIV. My research is highly interdisciplinary, as I work with lasers, cells, and nanofabrication, on a daily basis. Today I see scientists and engineers from different disciplines converging to solve our biggest challenges in healthcare, and it makes me hopeful about the future. In my “free” time, I love to go to concerts and paint. Fun fact about me: I’ve climbed Mount Fuji to watch the sunrise from the top!
What # would define your life journey?
Favorite website / app:
Soundcloud! Follow me at nabsicle if you want to hear some deep house tracks
Someone who inspires you and knowledge they have imparted:
My biggest inspiration in life is my amazing mother. She never once questioned my interest and talents in science and math while I was growing up. She also actively encouraged me to pursue music and art in parallel to science. She made sure to give me all the support possible so that I could be here at Harvard today. Everything I do, I do for my Mom.
Song that makes you want to dance:
Challenge you’ve faced and how you overcame it:
My big life challenge was spending my high school years in the middle of a civil war in Sri Lanka. I had a privileged life, but it was hard to see so much suffering around me. I started volunteering at a girls’ orphanage as an English teacher to feel like I was doing something positive. Little did I know that it would be the most rewarding experience of my life. My girls were so hard-working and eager to learn, and their energy gave me the strength to push myself in my academics. They taught me the importance of gratitude and humility, virtues that I try to practice every single day.
My career in physics has been a long-winded technical challenge. I love the beauty that Physics brings to how we perceive the world, but I can’t say that my physics years have been easy. Physics was always a challenge in school, but I loved it enough to make it through the rough times. I kept going by telling myself that one of my biggest strengths was being able to accomplish anything I put my mind to. The constant pep talks totally worked. The more I spend time with physics, the more I appreciate how amazing the world appears through the lens of physics. Today I use tool from physics to solve important challenges in healthcare, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
In terms of an ideal job, I’m very happy with where I am today. I get to do science every day, and even though it comes with a high failure rate, I wouldn’t change it for the world. In 10 years, I see myself as CEO of a company, most likely in medical devices / biotech. I love building teams that work well together, and my past leadership experiences have been extremely rewarding. I also believe that passing along the torch of education is one of my biggest responsibilities, so I will work to improve STEM education around the world, and also build schools in places that most need them.
What knowledge would you impart to women in order for them to REIGN their lives?
I think it’s very important to be true to yourself and listen to your inner voice. If your inner voice is telling you to “do art” or “travel the world” I would say DO IT! I think it’s a shame when we spend our lives worrying about what the world would think about our decisions. So stop worrying, and go do it. Nobody is perfect, but we must learn to love our strengths and weaknesses in order to be true to ourselves. The other important thing to do is to find people who support you, and get you. It’s very important to have friends and mentors to lean on in difficult times. I know a lot of people struggle with asking for help, but it’s the only way to move forward in a difficult time. Remember, you are never alone. You just have to reach out.