Science’s Real Life Wonder Woman
A lesson in the power of determination
Dr. Eqbal Mohammed Dauqan is, more than anything else, a lesson in the power of determination. “When I want to do something even difficult I just put in my mind and just do it,” she says matter-of-factly. Though she holds a PhD in biochemistry, she didn’t always like the subject as a child. But as she began hearing about accomplished scientists in chemistry, she asked herself,
“What is the difference between them and me?”
She was always looking for “the difficult things” and asking why she couldn’t do them — and then convincing herself she could. Given her impressive career trajectory, it is clearly a philosophy that has proven itself successful.
Her accomplishments speak for themselves. She recently completed her contract with the Institute of International Education’s Scholar Rescue Fund (IIE-SRF) and is currently awaiting placement in Europe through the Scholars At Risk (SAR) network in the United States. Her journey has been punctuated with various honors and international awards, earning her the title of “The Most Unstoppable Scientist in the World.”
Her specialty is nutrition. She earned her PhD in biochemistry in Malaysia in 2012 where her thesis was the first in her department deemed “excellent” (equivalent to an honors distinction). The university then gave her the opportunity to continue as a postdoc in the food science department with her former supervisor and mentor, Professor Aminah Abdullah. After completing her postdoc, she returned to Yemen in July 2013 and began working at Al Saeed University in her hometown of Taiz as a lecturer. She quickly earned promotion after promotion to become head of the laboratory science division. Her passion for nutrition education soon drove her to create the university’s first nutrition program — one of only a few in the country.
When asked about what she is most proud of building, she describes a nutrition exhibition she put on at the university. “So many people attended even from inside and outside the university, even from government,” she says. “Unfortunately that was the last thing.” The last thing, that is, before civil war broke out in Yemen, forcing her family to flee their home and putting her research on hold.
Her commitment to her research, ultimately, was her lifeline. Her family was living in a rental apartment when they received the horrifying news that nine family members had been killed and that their home had been destroyed. She didn’t have electricity, couldn’t charge her phone or computer, yet through sheer force of will managed to find a way to complete the IIE-SRF application. Two months later she learned that her determination had paid off — she had been accepted into the program. “Because of them [IIE-SRF] I am in Malaysia, I can help and support my family,” she says.
Thus far, her research has focused on the effect of natural antioxidants in our food, from vegetable oils to herbs to fruits. She is compiling her findings in a forthcoming book about palm oil, a follow up to the popular science book she has already published on the nutritional value of fruits mentioned in the Quran.
Beyond her obvious passion for her work, she is a vocal advocate for refugees around the world, particularly from her home country. Yemen’s civil war has devastated the country, displacing countless people. Dr. Eqbal herself has been affected in the most personal of ways — losing both family and home. However, she counts herself fortunate for earning her position in Malaysia, and takes extraordinary measures to help her fellow Yemenis in any way she can. Somehow between conducting research, publishing, and traveling, she also managed to gather donations to feed Yemeni students in Malaysia and provide food for displaced families in Yemen for Eid-al-Fitr.
She is disappointed by the lack of knowledge that exists in the world about her country. “Some people don’t know where is Yemen,” she exclaims. “Yemen is not poor. We have very good resources, but lack facilities and good government.” She has heard plenty from journalists and others about the poor treatment of women in the country as well. It’s not as bad as people think, she insists, “because females are now allowed to take social or government positions. Now so many females from Yemen pursuing higher education. So many scientists.”
“I want to tell everyone about Yemen,” she concludes. “Yemen is still on the map.” And if it wasn’t before, she has certainly done enough to put it there.