Deeply rooted in family and Egypt, Heba and Yasmine Aguib in their pursuit of excellence are leaving their mark on two continents by breaking through cultural and gender barriers. A strong and supportive family, excellent German education and technology, and an insatiable thirst for knowledge and innovation were the ideal combination for the innumerable achievements the “Dynamic Duo” has accomplished thus far.
Born of Egyptian parents, the two sisters grew up in Cairo where family, education, sports and arts were made top priorities for them by their parents and grandmother, who urged them to study abroad. It was a long and challenging quest that started with the German Abitur at the German School in Cairo (DSB) where they were awarded DAAD scholarships to study in Germany, and continued at the Technical University in Munich (TUM) where both fulfilled their grandmothers wish by receiving PhDs with honors and distinction.
While the two sisters chose different academic tracks (Yasmine: PhD in Molecular Biotechnology; Heba: PhD in Mechanical Engineering), they ended up both working in the medical field as practicing professionals. It was destined that their grandmother’s influence would not end with the sisters just receiving their PhDs. After their grandmother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Heba, the younger of the sisters, changed fields from automotive engineering to medical device technology and Yasmine focused more on brain cell research and a cellular process called autophagy.
And it was destiny again that brought the two sisters back to Egypt when they were recruited by the world-famous Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub to work with him at the Magdi Yacoub Foundation/ Aswan Heart Center where they established a Research Center and are currently leading two research groups. Their mission and goals are serving Egyptian patients and advancing cardiovascular/heart disease research as well as promoting research and healthcare development in Egypt.
Heba and Yasmine strongly believe in the importance of equality in the opportunities for growth, and the importance of fighting for them in order to achieve their goals. Their personal and professional core values and objectives can be summed up in their own words,
“We hope to have an impact on advancing Science, Innovation and Technology in Egypt and worldwide, by focusing on our country’s and people’s points of strength and strengthening our bonds with global partners. We are working hard on paving the way for girls and boys in the future by bringing advanced Research and Technology and Innovation Development forward.”
Born a year apart, the two sisters are not your typical next door girl. They juggle jobs, families, and careers in three countries and in three languages. They work with Leading Researchers around the world and lead teams of young scientists to bring precision medicine in cardiovascular diseases forward, especially in underprivileged communities. “The core of our research interest is challenging as translational research is all about translating knowledge generated from research into patient care and improving preventive, diagnostic and therapeutic measures. It is very important and exciting to work with colleagues from different disciplines to reach our common goals.”
Their careers are challenging for any person, not to mention a woman from the Middle East, as these challenges include social and peer pressures and are not limited to the competitive, fast paced scientific field. “Perseverance and resilience makes you focus on what you want rather than giving in to the hurdles that you encounter throughout your life,” they explained how they manage these challenges.
Watching the Aguibs’ performance and schedules, one concludes they are nothing less than super women. “There are moments, phases, in every ones’ life, where they need to believe in having special capabilities in order to motivate themselves to overcome difficult situations. Sometimes we look back and wonder how we were able to get through challenging times,” they said when asked if they think of themselves as super women.
The young scientists stay on top of things by observing and learning “as much as they can” from people around them; their parents, family members and the “great mentors” they met throughout their professional lives from Egypt and outside Egypt. They also believe in the importance of planning ahead and preparing for different scenarios to maintain high standards in everything they do, focus on priorities and never stop pushing boundaries.
Yasmine and Heba credit their interest and involvement in science at an early age to their school system (DSB) and to their teachers. “They were always encouraging us to open our eyes and observe what’s going around us; probably this played a major role. The way of teaching and discussing with us had a great impact.”
As teenagers, they have always envisioned themselves bridging cultures and contributing to the development in Egypt and Germany. “Everything else that followed, came by as one thing that led to the other opening up new opportunities to us.”
It is quite unfortunate that the social and educational system and work environment can sometimes lead women to give up on their passion or aspirations. “When this happens women become too aware of limitations and act within existing boundaries. And here comes the roles of family members, teachers, professors, managers and bosses (men and women) who should alleviate these boundaries. Women should be supported and promoted equally like men, while paying consideration to social circumstances. Gender equality is one of our core principles in everything we do.”
No doubt, women, especially those working in male dominant fields, are exposed to more pressure to prove their capabilities and be accepted in the male arenas. That leads women to sometimes believe that by competing in the male world they have to alienate themselves from their own gender. That’s what the Aguib’s sisters also believed when they first ventured into the field of scientific research, “At the beginning we thought that we have to separate between being a woman and being professional, but while maturing we learned that there’s no contradiction between being feminine and being “professional”.”
In spite of their busy schedules trying to balance between work and their private lives, the sisters make up time for sports and activities they enjoy. This helps to recharge. Heba attends contemporary dance classes, kite surfing and other sports. Yasmine on the other hand enjoys reading, writing and doing fun activities with her daughter. Both enjoy music and contemporary arts.
Their journey is not a smooth ride. Yet they have carved their name in the field of scientific research. From their experience, they recognize the hardships, challenges, and hard work every young woman in the fields of science and engineering are going through. “The best advice for young women venturing in the fields of science and engineering is to explore and follow their passion during school and university. Find more about different disciplines and go for internships in industry and academia because it helps so much to know what you like or dislike. And also, read and listen to interviews and stories of and by their role models and find your own way.” They also emphasize the importance of finding supporting friends and partners who believe in them and their aspirations. “After all, it is very important, but very challenging, to balance between work and private life and be there for your teams as well as for family and friends. Finding time for doing things that enrich one’s intellect and soul and remind themselves what it is about in life …”