Dr. Samar Safi-Harb grew up in Lebanon during the civil war. Yet despite the difficult conditions of her upbringing and the obstacles associated with working in the male-dominated field of physics, Dr. Safi-Harb had a swift career development and excelled in her role as a Professor of Physics & Astronomy. Driven to share her knowledge, vision and passion for astrophysics, she left a long-term Space-Astrophysics NASA grant at the Goddard Space Flight Center to develop an astronomy program at the University of Manitoba, raising the international profile of Manitoba in astrophysics. Today, she is a Canada Research Chair (in Supernova Remnants Astrophysics), an inspiring and popular teacher, an active player in community service, and a mother of two young children, proving herself a true role model for women who wish to pursue their career in STEM.
My first job ever was… A teaching assistant for a physics laboratory as an undergraduate student.
I chose my career path because… I pursued my passion. I started as a pre-medical physics undergraduate student, because I thought I should become a medical doctor but I also loved physics when I took it in high school. Having to make the decision between the two, I followed my passion. I started my graduate studies in physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I did a summer research project there in Astrophysics (almost by accident!) and immediately fell in love with it. The rest is history!
My proudest accomplishment is… Overcoming the obstacles I had encountered in life and being where I am now, doing what I love doing every day: from surviving a civil war in Lebanon where I grew up, to pursuing a male-dominated field, to making it to NASA, to starting an astronomy program in Manitoba at a young age, to involving Manitoba in a space-based mission….while raising a young family.
My boldest move to date was… Leaving NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center for the challenging — yet exciting — opportunity to lead a new program in Manitoba.
I surprise people when I tell them… We have two new kittens!
My best advice to people starting their career is… Follow your passion, work hard at it and never give up, but also be flexible at times and seek timely opportunities.
“What matters is having a supporting and respectful environment for women, and for women to believe in themselves and seek support when needed.”
I would tell my 20-year old self… To enjoy every day, take it one step at a time, spend time with your loved ones, and never take anything or anyone for granted. This life is much too short.
Work/life balance is… There is no perfect work/life balance in my opinion. There are periods or days of our life where one dominates the other. Compromises and sacrifices have to be made. I try to do my best in everything I do, but accept the fact that not everything has to be perfect.
Being a woman in a male-dominated industry is… Sometimes fun and others not. What matters is having a supporting and respectful environment for women, and for women to believe in themselves and seek support when needed.
I stay inspired by… How far we came along in understanding our place in the Universe — and on a more-down-to-earth topic, watching inspirational movies with my family!
The future excites me because… We have just entered a new era of astrophysics, thanks to the discovery of gravitational waves from merging black holes and neutron stars. A lot more exciting discoveries are ahead of us, and we have many puzzling fundamental questions that we still have to answer; questions related to who we are, how we came to be, whether we are alone, and the kind of universe we live in.
My next step is… Pursue my passion to inspire the next generation, women and under-represented people to go into science or to simply follow their passion and work hard at it to make a difference in the world we live in.