It is no surprise that my grandmother, Shaheen Rab, has become a mathematician. Her parents, four younger sisters and two younger brothers were all well educated and all loved math and science. But her love for math was so strong that she accomplished a lot from it.
Starting from age four, her grandfather taught her addition and subtraction with small sticks in a village in Bangladesh. She always loved how challenging math could be and enjoyed doing math problems that made her think. She believed that no one could live without math. Her life story shows how much she loves math and science.
It is on a very rare occasion that a Bengali Muslim female would be able to go all the way to the US to do her studies in the 1970s. But because of her outstanding commitment to math and science, she was able to accomplish that. She got a full scholarship to complete her PhD at the University of Rochester and traveled thousands of miles in pursuit of knowledge. By having to leave her husband and three-year-old daughter, she had to make a big sacrifice. Her commitment to her studies was acknowledged in a Bengali newspaper with the headline describing her: “Falls in Love with Science.”
After finishing her PhD in Nuclear Physics, she went to Kuwait to work for the Kuwait Institute of Scientific Research (KISR) as a research scientist. In her first job, she was in charge of Nuclear Data evaluation at the Institute. Kuwait was a member of international nuclear data networks under the International Atomic Energy Commission(IAEA) and she was able publish many papers while working there.
Unfortunately, the Gulf War hit in 1991 and she decided to join the group at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Once again she had to separate from her husband and daughter as she went to follow her love of working in the math and science fields at the National Laboratory. In 2000, she decided to join her husband and family in Long Island, NY. Presently, she teaches physics to engineers at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Pt., NY. Teaching has not made her idle in her research. She has recently published a paper on the statistical model for nuclear levels.
Other than doing her work, Dr. Shaheen Rab enjoys sewing and painting. She once opened her own business where she sewed and designed beautiful dresses for women and children. Her grandchildren are very lucky with all the clothes she sews for them!
Shaheen Rab’s motivation came from her parents who always encouraged her to study hard and do her best. Math and science were always her favorite subjects. She says about her life, “I knew I would be most efficient if I work in the fields of math and science and I had no doubt that women could excel in those fields.”
She encourages those who enjoy math and science to study what they love. She also says, “Women should not be afraid to study science and math as we need them more in these fields. Knowledge is power. Women can effectively transmit it to their children. They are the best teachers for them.” Dr. Shaheen Rab’s career definitely does prove that women can excel in the math and science fields.