Published by the Faculty of Business, Government and Law, University of Canberra

BroadAgenda

Research and Stories through a Gendered Lens

Summer profile series – inspiring women: Maryam Ghahramani

Feb 27, 2024 | Gender, Medicine, Technology, Career, Health, Engineering, Research, Profile, Feature

Written by Ginger Gorman

Over summer, BroadAgenda is featuring a short series of profiles on amazing women and LGBTIQ + folks. You’re about to meet Dr Maryam Ghahramani. She’s a Lecturer in engineering with the Faculty of Science and Technology, University of Canberra.

If you were sitting next to someone at a dinner party, how would you explain your work and research in a nutshell?

I like to think of myself as the female version of  Galileo in the field of human motion and balance!  Just like Galileo said, “If it’s measurable, measure it; if it’s not, make it measurable.” That’s my motto.

I measure human motion, balance, mobility, and motor function. Why? I do it to assist in diagnosing conditions that affect motor function, like Parkinson’s disease or dementia, and to aid in mobility assessment and rehabilitation, particularly for older individuals.

What are you currently working on that’s making you excited or that has legs?

Currently, I am focused on a project aimed at developing models that, in the long run, can diagnose younger onset dementia. We’re employing various sensors to assess motion and brain activity, alongside machine learning techniques.

This project particularly is really exciting for me. Despite the common belief, dementia isn’t just for older people and there have been cases as young as 35! This is really tough because many of these people actively raise families and  have full time jobs. Unfortunately, most dementia studies primarily concentrate on older people, despite the differing needs of younger individuals with dementia.

Maryam Ghahramani

Dr Maryam Ghahramani beleives that “when we lack diversity in engineering and tech, the resulting products tend to be biased towards the majority, which in this case, are men.” 

For people with younger onset dementia (YOD), it’s often their spouses who become their caregivers, a role that can be incredibly overwhelming. Not only do they face the emotional challenge of witnessing their partner’s decline, but they also find themselves solely responsible for managing family affairs and providing care.

In this project, our aim is to develop a method for early diagnosis using technology and machine learning. We hope that this method will enable us to introduce interventions that can effectively slow down the progression of symptoms and enhance independence for individuals with younger onset dementia.

Let’s wind back the clock a bit. Why did you go into this field?  What was compelling about it? Feel free to dredge up childhood memories and bring colour in here.

Well, I’ve always had a thing for mathematics, and at some point, I got really intrigued by electronics. I vividly remember the excitement I felt at the age of 8 when I assembled a basic circuit, a small setup of a tiny light, two wires, and a battery.

I guess that eventually led me to realise that I wanted to pursue something related to both —engineering. Also, being Iranian, I’ve noticed that many women in Iran are drawn to engineering, despite the unequal opportunities for women in the workforce. It’s almost like an unconscious pull towards roles traditionally seen as “masculine.” Perhaps, in a way, it’s our form of resistance.

What impact do you hope your work has? 

What I absolutely love about my field of research is its complete multidisciplinarity. It’s this fusion of health, engineering, and technology, which couldn’t be more essential in today’s world. Technology is a huge part of our lives, and finding new ways to use it for a better human life and well-being gets me really excited. It’s something I always emphasise to prospective and younger students: the field of engineering and technology, and later research within it, is incredibly diverse.

We’ve moved far beyond traditional engineering into a realm of endless possibilities. That’s what makes it so exhilarating and continually evolving.

I’m really hoping to see more women get into engineering, tech, and research, shaping a brighter future for all.

Do you view yourself as feminist researcher? Why? Why not? What does the word mean to you in the context of your own values and also your work?

I definitely see myself as a feminist, and that has significantly influenced my career and research path. I come from a country where women were not given equal opportunities to men in many areas of life. I’ve always fought against these inequalities and strived to push boundaries, often without even realising it.

Coming from a place that women are suppressed, I carry a lot of baggage, but I’ve learned to cope with it and turn those challenges into positive outcomes. As a result, I’ve been, am, and will continue to be the biggest advocate for women in STEM fields, particularly those hailing from underprivileged countries, and I’ll always support women in engineering.

What have you discovered in your work that has most surprised or enchanted you? 

As a researcher and academic, what’s surprised me the most is how much I learn from students, whether they’re PhD candidates or undergraduates. It’s the most exciting and enjoyable aspect of my work. It’s a continuous journey of learning, where you discover how to learn more and more from everyone around you.

Is there anything else you want to say? 

As I mentioned earlier, engineering and technology offer a vast array of opportunities and possibilities that seem limitless.

What I truly hope for is the inclusion of more women and individuals of other genders in this field, bringing with them their unique perspectives and ways of thinking, which unfortunately have been underrepresented in technology and engineering for many decades, even centuries.

When we lack diversity in engineering and tech, the resulting products tend to be biased towards the majority, which in this case, are men. It’s imperative that we strive for a more diverse workforce to ensure that our innovations are truly representative of society as a whole.

 

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Ginger Gorman is a fearless and multi award-winning social justice journalist and feminist. Ginger’s bestselling book, Troll Hunting, came out in 2019. Since then, she’s been in demand both nationally and globally as an expert on cyberhate and the real-life harm predator trolling can do. She's also the editor of BroadAgenda and gender editor at HerCanberra. Ginger hosts the popular "Seriously Social" podcast for the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia. Follow her on Twitter.

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