Natasha is an assistant professor and programme coordinator of the bio-medical engineering unit at the University of Trinidad and Tobago.
Life and education in the Caribbean
Growing up in the small village of Tacarigua in Trinidad and Tobago, and being the eldest of five children, Natasha was thrust into a parental role at a young age. Describing herself as an average student throughout primary and secondary education, it was at the age of 15 she discovered a love for chemistry, finding a fascination in atoms and realising that she had a knack for balancing equations.
“I personally believe a passion for learning begins in the formative years. In today’s world of social media, the art of reading and writing is being lost amongst our young people. The Royal Society of Chemistry can help in this arena by promoting activities and forums that are targeted at a younger group, to engage them in academic and technical exercises which are fun and educational at the same time.”
Taking private tuition classes is common practice in Trinidad and Tobago and one that Natasha followed as a teenager to boost her performance. Her after-school chemistry lessons were taught by an enthusiastic teacher who ensured that his passion for chemistry was passed on to his students.
“My teacher’s notes were impeccable and he was able to deliver the content in such a way that students excelled in exams, whilst still developing a passion and true love for the subject”
After finishing her secondary education, Natasha gained a First Class Honours BSc in chemistry from the University of the West Indies. She was then offered a postgraduate scholarship to remain at the university and carry out research for the award of MPhil in bio-analytical chemistry. After two years, this was upgraded to PhD, due to the novelty and quality of her research.
Since gaining her doctorate in 2008, Natasha has been working at the University of Trinidad and Tobago where she is now an assistant professor in the biomedical engineering unit. With her success she faced challenges along the way:
“As an undergraduate and graduate student at university, my biggest challenge at times was striving to become a professional woman in a sphere seemingly dominated by males.”
Working in a developing nation has its own challenges and, within a university that is only a decade old, Natasha finds it difficult to obtain funding for research or other scholarly support. However, her passion for chemistry has helped her address these challenges and continue successfully along her path in academia. Natasha happily shares that she has never faced discrimination because of her gender, but acknowledges that when studying and working in an environment which is 90% male, she did feel intimidated at times. As she developed her talents and grew in confidence, she found that she was better able to work alongside her colleagues, without these insecurities.
"I truly believe that in Trinidad and Tobago, both men and women have equal opportunities to demonstrate their skills and to be acknowledged and rewarded as such.”
Reflecting on encouragements
Acknowledging that her success was made possible through the support of her parents, she is now able to pass this on to her son and students to ensure they know of all the options open to them. Natasha’s experiences have been fulfilling in many ways but she admits that, whilst happy, the busy life of a researcher, wife, mother and writer mean that building personal friendships is not a priority at times. If she hadn’t been a chemist, Natasha says she would have become a chef as she enjoys cooking and learning about different cuisines and cultures. “I still have dreams of opening my own restaurant one day – serving everything on petri dishes and in round bottom flasks!”
In addition to her research and teaching responsibilities, Natasha uses her passion and expertise in other areas. She is heavily involved in a school outreach programme, writing study books, supervising students at all levels and co-ordinating various chemistry programmes. Natasha came second in the National Institute of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology (NIHERST) Prime Minister Awards for Scientific Ingenuity in 2014.
When asked what advice she would give to minority groups setting out on a chemistry career, Natasha replies, “whether it is a question of analytical abilities, physical endurance or leadership skills, as a woman, have faith in your capabilities. Dedication, passion and a steadfast approach will allow any person to achieve their goals, regardless of gender or race.”
Words by Geri Kitley
Images courtesy of Natasha Ramroop Singh
Published June 2015