Nazira works on the GENOVATE project, which aims to transform organisational culture for gender equality in research and innovation.
Not only is Nazira an associate dean and senior lecturer in chemistry within the faculty of life sciences at the University of Bradford, she also balances her teaching and research with heading up the university’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programme.
“My focus, apart from chemistry, has been on improving the student experience and the extension of opportunity and education to people at the margins of society. This is a deeply held educational and social commitment, partly born out of my schooling and undergraduate study in a repressive South Africa during Apartheid.”
During primary school in rural South Africa, Nazira enjoyed reading and mathematics, but if it weren’t for her family’s move to the outskirts of the city, she would not have been able to progress to secondary school. With the access to high school, Nazira continued her education, despite the racially segregated system that ill-prepared her for university. “It was a schooling grounded on racial segregation and a denial of opportunity to dark-skinned people. In practical terms, that translated into poor teaching, under-resourced schools and, for most, curtailed ambitions.”
Against the odds, Nazira studied for her chemistry degree at a liberal university which had previously been reserved for white students. She explains, “That was hard because most of my fellow students had had such a privileged schooling and access to well-equipped school laboratories.” Nazira’s greatest interest was in synthetic chemistry and her final year research project explored the Baylis-Hillman reaction. After graduating, she continued her research, studying for a Master's degree whilst expecting her twin daughters.
A new life
After securing a scholarship to the University of St Andrews for her PhD, Nazira’s interests focussed towards phosphorus ylide chemistry. In the research intensive environment, she relished the new opportunities. She found the university support essential for her
academic work and the pull of her young family. Nazira also began to show a flair for teaching, working and demonstrating to undergraduates. “Awareness of vulnerable students and my wardenship of one of the student halls taught me the crucial importance of appropriate academic and personal support for students to achieve success, ideas which underpin much of my teaching today.”
Understanding the importance for researchers to experience variety in academic institutions, Nazira moved to the University of Florida on a fellowship to join the Centre for Heterocyclic Chemistry. Here she encountered a multi-national group of bright chemists and an intense, 24-hour laboratory. This flexibility however, enabled Nazira to balance the joy of research with the joy of family life. Nazira explains “this flexibility was great for me as I had two excited children who were keen to explore their new home.”
A future with education
In search of stability for her family, Nazira took up an academic position at the University of Bradford. “The university seemed very pro-active in reaching out to the communities in West Yorkshire; from being sensitive to the concerns of inner-city impoverished groups to being responsive to the requirements of the business and manufacturing community.”
As director for STEM in 2008, Nazira experienced first-hand the importance of outreach grounded on values of social improvement, generating equality and offering equal opportunity. Involved in shaping the £21m HEFCE funded national HE STEM programme, Nazira supported new approaches to recruiting students and delivering programmes of study.
“I want to extend opportunity so that marginalised students feel they have a future in education, particularly in science and allied fields.” Nazira sees the STEM programme is beginning to transform science education by raising attainment at school level and increasing interest in higher education.
“Science careers for women is a personal commitment for me: I enjoyed my chemistry training and career, and encourage other women to embark on similar career paths. I was able to follow my ambition because I was able to work around the care of my twin daughters. The personal and career trajectories of women scientists are not easy, but they can be achieved and the rewards are immense. The latest project that I am involved in, GENOVATE, seeks to facilitate this by transforming organisational culture for gender equality in research and innovation.”
Words by Jenny Lovell and Nazira Karodia
Images courtesy of James Windle, STEM Central, University of Bradford
Published November 2014