Sara Nabil

Mentor makes a positive impact

Faculty of Arts and Science researcher Dr. Sara Nabil has earned the Ban Righ Foundation Inspiring Women Mentorship award. The university-wide award is presented to a Faculty member (current or retired) who self-identifies as a woman and who has supported women in achieving their goals, inspired students, and demonstrated mentorship and knowledge sharing.

Dr. Nabil, who has a PhD in human computer interactions (HCI) computing and is an assistant professor at Queen’s University’s School of Computing as well as head of the university’s iStudio Research Lab, was nominated for the award by her students, both post docs and undergrads. Last year, she was also the recipient of the Early Career Research award from the Canadian Human-Computer Communications Society (CHCCS) / Société canadienne du dialogue humain-machine in Canada. 

“I’m so proud and I think part of that is because most of my mentees are women,” Dr. Nabil (School of Computing, says. “I try to fight for gender and cultural diversity, so I recruit lots of women in my lab which is wonderful because they are super talented and super excited to do amazing work, especially when it comes to smart textiles.”

Her research, that takes place in her HCI Design Studio, integrates interior, fashion and product design with interaction design, using seamless soft sensing, e-textiles, and smart materials that are malleable, shape-changing, or colour-changing.

“The students come to me and say they never thought their passion for art or design could ever be combined with our knowledge of computing,” Dr. Nabil says. “Many of them come from backgrounds of engineering and computer science and found combining their artistic skills or creative practice with tech quite novel and inspiring.

Dr. Nabil says her students nominated her because of how she interacts with them beyond just their day-to-day work. She is also focused on gender equality and encouraging more women to explore the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) subjects.

“Other labs in the School of Computing include plenty of men and I think our goal as women, and myself as a minority, is to bring more women in - into the classrooms, into the labs - to bring in more faculty members who are women and to train graduate students and undergraduate students to give them role models and show them we can do this, show them it’s something that can fulfil them academically and personally.”

Dr. Nabil (left) works with a student in her lab.

Dr. Nabil (left) works with a student in her lab.

She says her female students can, at times, get intimidated by how competitive men can be.

“You cannot deny how stressful it is, especially in the early stages when a woman is still a student and trying to break into one of these areas of study. They say to themselves “I want to be this, but I can’t be that later on’ for a variety of reasons. It’s up to us to empower them, to make them confident, and to give them the tips and tricks of the game.”

“As we recognize International Women’s Day, this is a important opportunity to celebrate the achievements of Dr. Nabil and our other women researchers and professors within FAS as we continue to take action to drive gender parity,” says Lynda Jessup, Vice-Dean, Faculty of Arts and Science. “We are working towards a world where difference is valued and celebrated.”

Dr. Nabil says she takes everything into account when giving advice to a female colleague – she understands the challenges, the ups and downs.

“When you take on something like this, including mentoring students, and you do it with your heart, I think it comes through.”

Dr. Nabil also talked about running her lab and what she’s learning about not only managing the laboratory space but also managing the people working within.

“Every person is very unique, their minds, their skills, their emotions, and how they handle stress and how they handle their work-life balance. You have to tailor your mentorship to each and every one of them.”

The award will be presented to Dr. Nabil April 27 at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. This is particularly exciting for celebrating diversity and inclusion since Sara is the first Muslim and Hijabi Woman to receive this award. The Inspiring Women Mentorship and Leadership Awards, along with selected Student Spring Awards, will be presented at the event.

To learn more about Dr. Nabil and her work, read the Queen’s Alumni Review story The Magic of Everyday Objects or visit the Ban Righ website.