Dr Zahra Sharif Khodaei - Tutor for Women
Tell us about your role and research
"I started at Imperial as a Post-doc in the Department of Aeronautics in 2009. I received a lectureship position in 2014 and was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2017. Eventually, I became a Reader in September 2019."
"My research is on structural integrity and health monitoring with the focus on composite structures. As aerospace structures are increasingly manufactured from composite material (due to their superior strength and lighter weight), their design, maintenance and safety remains an important topic to be addressed. With composites being fundamentally different from metallic structures, which we have years of experience and data from, my work focuses on understanding the type of damages that can occur in composites and finding novel ways to detect these damages at an early onset to avoid catastrophic failures and to propose maintenance and repair strategies depending on the type and severity of the damage. The proposed methods are based on integrating miniaturized sensors into the structure and monitoring their behaviour continuously to predict the health of the structure, similar to what neurons do in our body. My research constitutes theoretical and experimental work."
Explain to us a little about the Tutor for Women role.
"The Tutor for Women was a role that was suggested by the EDCCI (Equality, Diversity, Culture, Communications and Inclusion) committee."
"The main responsibility of the role is to have a member of academic staff providing support for female students when needed. In a male-dominated department, a lot of our female students will inevitably have male personal tutors. and the senior roles such as Senior Tutor, Director of UG Studies, and the Head of Department are all currently held by men. If a female student feels that they would like to discuss a matter with a female member of staff, I am there to provide this support."
"Just as importantly, I sit on the Department’s Management Committee to ensure that there is a female representative not only for undergraduate students but also for post-graduate, PhD, PDRAs and female staff as well."
"Together with the chair of the EDCCI committee, Dr Maria Ribera Vicent, we organise an annual workshop for female students (one for Undergraduate and MSc students, and another for PhD students and post-Docs) to have a private space to talk about their concerns in the a male-dominated environment and ensure that they are being treated equally by their colleagues, help them with some of the challenges they face such as confidence."
"They can approach me with anything that is troubling them, from personal issues such as having difficulty adjusting to a new environment and a new culture, to any particular instances they might have encountered with any of their colleagues or peers which they might have thought it unfair or alarming. However this is not restricted to female students only; as a role this that promotes equality, diversity, culture, communication and inclusion, anyone who might think they have not been treated fairly can come to me for support. If I cannot provide help myself, I can always point them in the right direction. For example, female staff and students who are planning to have a family or are coming back from maternity leave can come to me if they have any concerns or they need to know any information."
What tips do you have for women working toward a Career in Academia? What kind of support is available?
"There is actually more support available to women in academia than we know about so don’t be scared. Often, we do not know about the level of support which is available (for example maternity cover for PhD students), this is why it’s good to always ask and engage (one of the reasons for the role of tutor for women). We have a wonderful team in the department who have worked hard to put policies in place to ensure that all the support that and that there is transparency."
"If you are thinking of an academic career, my recommendation for career development is to plan your career and have a mentor. Having good advice from someone who has been in academia actively for a while is very helpful in terms of how to plan towards this."