Dr. Lamiaa El Fassi
Mississippi State University
AWIS member since 2011
“If you are passionate about something and you work hard toward it, it will be realized.”
What is your favorite word?
How has this word influenced your career?
I strongly believe that without God (Allah in Arabic) supporting me, I would not have reached where I am now. I also believe that if you are passionate about something and you work hard toward it, it will be realized. It may not happen as fast as you would like, but when it is time for something to happen, it will happen.
What challenges have you encountered throughout your career?
Growing up in Morocco, my family lived very modestly. I lost my Dad, the main support of the family, in my second year of college. The family struggled a lot afterward thus my older sister, who quit her education during middle school to take care of my sick mother, had to look for a job to support my studies. I always loved science and chose to study nuclear physics. What could I do as a nuclear physicist in Morocco? Nothing. Still, I moved to the capital, Rabat, to pursue a master’s degree and hoped for something miraculous to happen and it did.
Describe an amazing opportunity in your STEM career.
During my first year of my master’s, Dr. Kawtar Hafidi visited Mohammad V University, from Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) in the U.S. She is originally from Morocco and did her undergraduate studies at the same university. She was looking for a student to fill a fellowship position at ANL. She met with all students in my class and end up choosing me! It was a surprise, if not a “miracle!” I wasn’t even looking for opportunities because I couldn’t financially afford to travel somewhere for training. That was part of her criteria. She wanted to help someone in need that showed passion. I came to the U.S. on September 6, 2003. I will never forget this date. It was a life-changing experience. I strived to succeed, no matter what it takes, because my belief that a great opportunity is worth sacrificing for!
What do you consider to be your most important career achievement?
I got my PhD in Experimental Nuclear/Hadronic Physics in 2008 and was lucky to have several postdoctoral offers before I even graduated. I chose to go to Rutgers University and work with Dr. Ronald Gilman for 4.5 years. Then, I moved to Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA before getting the prestigious Bridged-appointment Assistant Professor Position at Mississippi State University (MSU) in August of 2014. When I joined MSU, another new chapter of my life started. I had to balance my time between research and teaching, which was a completely new skill to adopt. After the completion of my Bridged-appointment, I was promoted and tenured in August 2020. I am now an Associate Professor.
How do you inspire your students?
In the first session of my course each semester, I tell students about my background and career path. I also participate in career development sessions for juniors in the STEM field organized by the university or national labs. I want them to know that doesn’t matter where you come from, you can be successful as long as you are educated, enthusiastic, and passionate. It is not necessary to be passionate about the same field as me, just be passionate about something. That is the most important thing!
What advice do you give them?
Look for mentors to help you. I was lucky to have a few very good mentors, but not everyone is this lucky. Make sure to observe and understand the environment surrounding you, analyze facts properly, then act based on what suits your belief and findings, not just what you heard from others. Do not underestimate yourself. It is okay to fail to grow stronger if lessons are aptly learned. As you broaden your knowledge and gain confidence, your study and research, will become easier and easier due to the work ethics and time management skill you acquired. Choose the job that you are passionate about and keep working on your time management and life-work balance. You may find yourself many times over-committed, thus prioritizing your tasks will help you remain productive and advancing instead of sinking!