“Striving for Excellence”…………. tête-à-tête with Dr. Syeda Sultana Razia

Email: fauzia_j27@hotmail.com

Dr. Syeda Sultana Razia is a young, dynamic Professor and the Head of the Chemical Engineering Department, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET). Recently Ms. Fauzia Sultana interviewed her for ChE Thoughts.

Confident, witty and always wearing a smile, Dr. Razia is one of those young accomplished women, whose work and way of life set her as a model for the aspiring and passionate ones.

Born and raised in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Dr. Syeda Sultana Razia graduated from the Department of Chemical Engineering, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) in 1995. She is a Professor and is currently the Head of the Department of Chemical Engineering (HOD), BUET.

Dr. Syeda Sultana Razia

I teach out of passion. I always wanted to be a role model for my students, someone they can look up to, someone who will be there for them.”

Dr. Razia’s research has explored numerous areas. She received her Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Alberta, Canada. Her research mostly focuses on classical Chemical Engineering, which includes: distillation and other separation processes, process safety, hydrodynamics of gas/liquid dispersion, enhanced boiling heat transfer, waste water treatment, etc.

Much of Dr. Razia’s recent effort focuses on challenges associated with safety and the impacts of the chemical phenomenon on the environment and natural resources. She is currently serving as a resource person to the National Authority of Chemical Weapon Convention, Armed Force Division, Bangladesh. She is also involved in assessing the safety and environmental aspects of different chemical industries in Bangladesh. Besides, Dr. Razia has worked as an expert in a number of policy-making, investigations and selection committees dealing with technological issues of chemical industries formed by the Government of Bangladesh. She is working towards introducing specialization in Process Safety both at the undergraduate and graduate levels in the Department of Chemical Engineering, BUET in collaboration with Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center, Texas A & M University System. As HOD she is trying to expand the research focus of the department from classical chemical engineering to bio related fields and establish collaboration with chemical as well as pharmaceutical industries.

For more than two decades, Dr. Razia has been involved in various social and religious works. She worked with a number of local and international Islamic organizations that deal with women rights, human rights, interfaith dialogue and social welfare.

She frequently speaks on social, religious and women rights issues on national and international media/platform. She is a Member of the International Society for Peace and Human Rights, a Canada based human rights organization and served as the President of Canadian Society for Peace in Chechnya during her PhD years.

ChE Thoughts gets an upfront interview with this young and dynamic Professor, who strives to achieve excellence and staunchly believes in human empowerment! 

Worldwide, we have very few women going into Engineering. Yet you chose to pursue your career in this field. What is/was the reason behind your choice?

My choice of Chemical Engineering was not planned. I always wanted to study Medicine and also got a chance to study in one of the leading medical colleges. But at that time I was not ready to live away from my family and also the career track in medicine did not seem too definite and clear. Few of my relatives and senior friends were already studying engineering; to me the career track seemed clear and exciting. Chemical Engineering was a growing industry at that time, and so I decided to pursue my career in Chemical Engineering.

Why do you think there are still less women going into Engineering? Is it due to the lack of female role models?

I personally feel that globally in general there are less women going into Engineering, although they are opting for other more or equally challenging jobs like journalism, medicine, even bureaucracy. Bangladesh is not any different. I think this is an issue of women’s preferences rather than opportunity. In my opinion, women have not yet found their comfort in this field.

You have been in the field of Chemical Engineering for a while now. How do you think Chemical Engineering has evolved with time?

When I started Chemical Engineering as a student, I was taught classical Chemical Engineering. My PhD research was on distillation which too is a part of classical Chemical Engineering. In last two decades Nano- and Biochemical Engineering have emerged as new disciplines and supplemented the classical chemical engineering greatly.

Besides, people’s way of looking at chemical industry has changed since. People today are more aware of environmental and safety issues; industries are working towards zero emission and inherently safer processes. Thus, chemical engineering is now focusing more on process flexibility and safety, rather.

Teaching is a process where you as the teacher are also learning every day. How do you prepare yourself before entering the classroom?

My way of preparing for class has changed over the years. The two aspects that I consider while designing a course are what I want to teach and how much I want the students to know at the end of the course. Through discussions on contemporary technologies in Chemical Engineering, inclusion of practical cases in the course material, sharing of my professional experiences, and active interaction with students in class are few of the points I emphasize on while teaching. I consider inquiry from students (is) very important, for it not only is reflective of the students’ understanding of the course, but it helps me improvise as a course instructor.

As an academician, what are your expectations toward yourself and toward the students?

I teach out of passion. I always wanted to be a role model for my students, someone they can look up to, someone who will be there for them. I work towards developing the capacity of my students to understand what Engineering is, preparing them as engineers for professional lives, and above all inspire them to become good human beings.

Syeda Sultana Razia

 You are the Head of the Department of Chemical Engineering. What are your plans as the Head?

My tenure as the Head of the Department of Chemical Engineering began since 2012, and as it continues, I strive to achieve excellence. I would like to strengthen research in the undergraduate and graduate levels, and streamline both the administrative and academic areas of the department. I, along with my fellow colleagues am carrying out curriculum review and up gradation of the undergraduate and graduate programs.

Being a Chemical Engineer and an Academician, what are your commitments towards the society?

I truly believe Bangladesh has scopes for contribution, as a whole. As a chemical engineer and the Head of the Department of Chemical Engineering, I would like to create opportunities and accessibility for the students and fresh graduates through alumni associations, policy making committees. I would also like to develop a good rapport between the department and the industries of private and public sectors. Facilitating graduate recruitments is my number one priority.   As academician, I want to strengthen engineering education and research and sow the seed of morality in my students.

How closely do you think Women Empowerment and Chemical Engineering are related?

I see women empowerment as related to Chemical Engineering as any other human empowerment is.

What are your words of wisdom to women in Engineering?

Not to lose one’s engineering aptitude to whatever extent she has achieved, even if she does not wish to remain in this field.

When not working, what else keeps you busy?

Family and my social work.

Academician, Head of the Dept., a social worker and lastly a mother- which do you enjoy being the most?

Motherhood is an inherent responsibility that we as women love and enjoy; and like any other responsibility it demands time and attention. If there is anything I enjoy after motherhood, it is teaching. Teaching in BUET has been an overwhelming experience for me; I studied here, worked here as a teacher and currently I am serving as the Head of the Dept. I now have the opportunity to lead the staff and my colleagues, some of whom were once my mentors. Finally, my social work is an integral part of the service I want to offer to the society through my motherhood, job and my life as a whole.

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