Meet Monash University’s latest Women in STEMM Student Leaders – Hamdi Jama

PhD Candidate – Science

Research focus: understanding how dietary fibre can be utilised in preventing heart disease.

Hami Jama

Hamdi Jama is a recipient of a 2021 MIME Women in STEMM Student Leader Award. These awards aim to recognise, celebrate and support women students at Monash University who are contributing to innovation in healthcare and medical technologies. MIME spoke to Hamdi upon accepting this award.

What is your chosen degree and what inspired you to pursue this path?

Growing up, I had an innate pursuit desire to help others. A career in the medical field was an obvious choice. Although I considered medical research, I was intimidated by this choice because I never saw someone that looked like me in academic research positions. I am now weeks away from submitting my PhD thesis and fulfilling my dreams of being a cardiovascular researcher. I feel incredibly privileged to say that I will be the first to get a PhD in my family.

What is your favourite aspect about this STEMM field?

My favourite aspect of the STEMM field is the collective pursuit of knowledge for the betterment of the broader global community. During my time at Monash, I have witnessed researchers from diverse disciplines working collaboratively on some of our society's challenging problems.

Can you elaborate on your contribution to innovation in healthcare and medical technologies?

My research focuses on understanding the effect of dietary fibre intake on heart disease. Heart disease is a significant cause of death and disability worldwide, disproportionately affecting low-income countries. Decades of evidence support that diets rich in fibre protect against the development of heart disease. Despite this evidence, global food trends are still converging on ultra-processed energy-dense dietary patterns lacking fibre. Two-thirds of adults in Australia consume inadequate fibre daily, including pregnant women. During my PhD, I found that fibre during pregnancy shapes offspring's gut microbes and modulates their heart at the cellular level, protecting against heart disease. Moreover, our laboratory conducted the first clinical trial using an enriched high-fibre supplement to treat essential hypertension. The outcomes of these studies are significant as I have demonstrated the efficacy and feasibility of fibre to prevent and treat heart disease.

Can you tell us a little of your leadership experience?

I have always been passionately opposed to systemic inequalities, and throughout my PhD training, I had several opportunities to represent current postgraduate students from underrepresented groups on various committees. These opportunities were eye-opening and allowed me to understand postgraduate women's multiple challenges as they navigate higher education. Most recently, I became the Chair of the High Blood Pressure of Australia's Early Career Researcher committee. In this role, I aim to work to improve the representation of women and underrepresented groups in high blood pressure research.

The MIME Women in STEMM Student Leader Award recognises student leadership. What does receiving this award mean to you?

The recognition bestowed to me by MIME as a student leader is incredibly empowering. Women, particularly women of colour, are still severely underrepresented in leadership positions. As a woman of colour, this award reinforces that I belong at the academic table.

What will the $1,000 cash prize to support your studies go towards?

The cash prize has supported me in the final stages of my PhD.

What are you most looking forward to in regard to the MIME networking opportunities afforded to you due to receiving this award?

I look forward to developing my leadership capacity and learning from uniquely talented and distinguished women leaders.

Why do you think awards like this are important for Women in STEMM?

Awards like this are essential for women in STEMM as visibility and representation challenge the leadership identity. Without visibility and representation, the status quo of what a leader looks like remains and an entire section of society is barred from decision making.

What is your advice for women in STEMM or those thinking about a career in STEMM?

My advice to women thinking about a career in STEMM would be to have a seat at the table and share their unique and valuable set of skills because only through representation and visibility will we change the leadership landscape. Only then can we challenge the perceived identity of what it means to be a leader.