500 Women Scientists is thrilled to continue our Meet the Scientist blog series! In celebration of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, we’re excited to highlight Palestinian women scientists who are both living in occupied territories and beyond. In this post, the spotlight is on Dr. Elham Kateeb!
Dr. Elham Kateeb is an Associate Professor of Dental Public Health, and the Dean of Scientific Research at Al-Quds University (Jerusalem, Palestine), and a research affiliate at the Public Policy Center at the University of Iowa. Kateeb completed a PhD in Dental Public Health from University of Iowa, a Master’s in Public Health (MPH) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and a Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) at the University of Jordan. Dr. Kateeb has been a diplomate of the American Board of Dental Public Health since 2013. You can find her on ResearchGate, LinkedIn, Google Scholar, Scopus and ORCID.
1. When did you first identify as a scientist?
I think I got into research during my Master’s of Public Health, where I conducted my first form evaluation study. Although I published two papers before I got into my PhD, I think I became properly trained on research in my PhD at the University of Iowa during 2008–2012, where I got my PhD in oral sciences, with a focus on Dental Public Health.
2. What does your work focus on?
I am a health services researcher, focusing on access to oral health care among marginalized populations. My research usually uses advanced modeling, behavioral frameworks and Conjoint experiments to understand barriers to accessing dental care. In addition, I conduct epidemiological studies and education too.
I am also an elected member of the International Dental Federation (FDI) Public Health Committee. I lead the efforts in this committee to improve oral health and general health for disadvantaged populations, my focus recently was on access to essential dental services among refugees. Lastly, I am a dental public health specialist who supervises many oral health promotion and disease prevention programs in Palestine, in collaboration with the ministries of Health and Education, the Palestinian Dental Association, and different local and international oral health organizations targeting children, women and special health care need patients in marginalized areas.
3. How did the current climate in Palestine impact your ability to work as a scientist?
As a researcher and a Dean of Scientific Research in my institution, I believe that our future, as Palestinians, depends on the strong intellectual base that we can create and retain. I am trying my best to serve my institution and to support my colleagues, but at many times, I feel helpless when I can’t make the desired impact, given the conditions we live in. The current situation in Palestinian territories is unjust and unstable for us as scientists. It is very difficult to live in a society that is deprived of its basic rights, such as the freedom to move, to express ourselves, and to demand from its intellectuals to excel in research and innovation.
In addition to everyday challenges for women scientists who live in occupied territories, we, researchers in Palestine, face many challenges. My commute to work should be a 20-minute drive, prior to the establishment of the Separating Wall that encircles Jerusalem and cuts it off from the surrounding villages where my university is located. However, I spend 60 minutes commuting on good days, and on bad days, my trip can last up to two hours and a half. This is simply because of the alternative roads and checkpoints imposed by Israeli occupation forces.
Travel and imports are heavily controlled by the Israelis, so we find it very difficult, most of the time, to participate in international conferences and research visits, or access research materials. Science can’t survive without a strong economy and good resources, and in the current situation, with complete control of resources and borders by the Israelis, all research institutions face a daily struggle to keep research labs open, or cover the running costs to conduct research and buy essential equipment and maintain them.
In the absence of national funding to research, researchers in Palestine rely heavily on international funding. This funding is usually linked to collaborative work that needs travel and active participation in conferences, workshops and research visits. This returns us to square one, where restrictions on movement, difficulties in getting visas, and restrictions on inviting international scholars and experts are obstacles to navigate. The absence of any airport in the Palestinian territories limit the participation of many scientists in such programs.
Despite all of these challenges, we are seeing the future brighter in our young. We, at Al- Quds University, established research bodies in all university colleges and tried to empower undergraduate students to get engaged as early as possible in research. We also reached out to high school students and encouraged them to actively participate in research activities. We started to see this work blooming in the high-quality publications our students publish. I always tell my students when you publish, you are not getting engaged in a scientific activity only, but you defend your existence by stating your affiliation as “Al-Quds University, Jerusalem, Palestine.” For the past seven years, our research production at AQU is steadily increasing, and women researchers have contributed to 45% of this production. In 60% of this contribution, women researchers were the lead authors.
4. What’s the best advice you’ve received over your career?
- To not burn my bridges with anybody.
- To not let others’ negativity affect you. It is their problem, not yours.
- Everybody has their own path, and you can’t judge.
- Hard work + Passion= Success
5. Can you tell us more about your awards, and service?
I was awarded the 2016 FDI Smile Award in the Innovation category by the Caries Prevention Partnership and the FDI Smile Award Committee for my project that promotes oral health among pregnant women in public clinics. I am also a 2015 Fellow of Zamalah program for academic career development, and a 2014 laureate of L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Levant Award.
I won the Olav Alvares Co for Best Article Published in the Journal of Dental Education (JDE) journal, and I am a 2013 fellow of the Leverett Graduate Student Merit Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dental Public Health.
Currently, I am a board member in the Palestinian Medical Council and the Palestinian Higher Education Council. I am also the co-chair of the Women in Science Organization (OWSD) Palestine chapter, and a board member of international organizations, such as VISTO International For Rights and Development, Academic Network for Development Dialogue (ANDD), the Global Movement for Sustainable Health Equity (SHEM) and others.
In addition to all of this, I am an educator who tries to inspire my students to learn every day, and a proud mother of two sons, Sami and Saif.
6. When you’re not researching or organizing events to promote women in STEM, how do you relax and unwind?
Travelling is my big passion: I love exploring new cities, new cultures and tasting new foods.
[Written interview with Dr. Elham Kateeb was coordinated by Dr. Rana Dajani; Edits by Farah Qaiser and Rosie Dutt.]