Despite moving away from her home country, Iran, Dr Tannaz Pak successfully achieved her PhD and is now a senior lecturer at Teesside University.
Where do you call home?
For me, home is Kermanshah a city in the west of Iran. I also feel at home in the UK, both in Middlesbrough and Edinburgh.
Tell us about your role?
I am a senior lecturer in energy and environmental engineering at Teesside University.
How did you get to where you are today?
I grow up in Iran in Kermanshah, a city surrounded by beautiful mountains and a clear sky. I was a happy kid and a hardworking student who enjoyed learning. When I got to high school age, I managed to pass the entrance exam of a school for elite students (that is what it was called). This was a national level entrance exam so getting in the school gave me confidence that I could achieve bigger things in life. From an early age I realised that I am good at maths and physics, so I decided to do engineering at university. My parents were very supportive of me going further after my graduation, so I continued my studies in a geoscience-related engineering subject in Paris.
I then decided to do a PhD. Despite the fact that I didn’t know much about Edinburgh and Scotland (this was back in 2010, just before smart phones and easy access to the internet), I accepted an offer to do a PhD at Edinburgh University’s school of geosciences, where I worked under the supervision of the most amazing supervisor. I married a former undergraduate classmate, who is a high achiever with so much energy and focus. Being with him always motivates me to push myself harder and to do my absolute best every time.
Before I submitted my PhD thesis, I was offered a job at Teesside University as a lecturer within the engineering department. I was very excited to start this job. I then got promoted to senior lecturer and have been working in the same role for the last seven years.
What struggles or obstacles did you face along the way?
Living away from family and friends has always been a struggle for me. When you move away and set up home in a new country some 3,000 miles away, you almost lose all the support you had and the love you can give all at once. It took a few years before the technology got to a point where most people had smart phones so we could easily make video calls, which has made a big difference in our lives. Every year my husband and I would put a lot of resources (energy, time, money) into travelling back to Iran to visit our family and friends. It has always been very difficult to invite the family over, and going through the emotional experience of applying for visas has been a struggle.
Starting an academic career after PhD is a challenge. It took lots of dedication and hard work to develop my own networks of colleagues and collaborators, win research grants and successfully deliver projects. It wasn’t easy at all in the beginning. In particular, I was challenged by having to change my research subject area from oil and gas engineering to energy and environmental engineering. This transition was happening for me at the same time as the industry had started its move away from fossil fuels and towards renewable and clean forms of energy. The new subjects were fascinating, but my time was limited. The challenge was to find all those extra hours to realign myself to this relatively new topic. I have to say I have enjoyed the journey very much, despite its difficulties.
Describe the moment you first got a feel for success?
In my early years as an academic, winning my first research grant was a great experience. The work was my idea – I wrote the proposal and I was the principal investigator. The project was funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering. It was a small project, but it led to many excellent opportunities and larger projects. More recently, being recognised as one of the top 50 women in engineering in the UK in 2021 has been an amazing experience. For me, this award was evidence that my work is indeed being recognised by the engineering community in the UK and my move to the energy and the environment subject has been successful.
Do you have any advice to aspiring young females?
First of all, you have to put in the hard work. There is no shortcut, success is earned by hard work. But hard work alone is not always sufficient. You need a vision, a plan, an outlook. It is not easy to form a vision when you have limited knowledge and you are at the start of the way. I think it is best to try to find a mentor from very early stages of your career. A good mentor can lift you to the levels beyond your imagination. I did not have a formal mentor until very recently. However, I have been blessed with having more of a casual but very useful series of conversations with a senior colleague who have helped me shape my path with a more focused mind.
Secondly, success needs to be repeated to show you are an achiever. When you win something, think about the next one to grow your work in a sustainable way.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would say work hard and don’t be shy to ask for advice from more senior colleagues. Find yourself a formal mentor. Stay focused, success will come. I would also encourage myself to spend time on setting personal goals and specific strategies to give myself the ability to measure my performance against the objectives and goals I have set. A great tool is performing a personal SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis. Making time to reflect on your work is not always seen as a priority but I have come to realise it clears up so much in your mind that is definitely worth doing at least once every six months.
What three words inspire you and encourage a positive path?
Consistency is everything.
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