Weather Updates

Argonne Lab to pitch careers in science to area high school girls

Kawtar Hafidi nuclear physicist Argonne Labratory.

Kawtar Hafidi, nuclear physicist of Argonne Labratory.

storyidforme: 10677607
tmspicid: 3312441
fileheaderid: 1881717

Updated: April 14, 2011 3:23PM

In 1999, two women from separate continents attended their orientation together at Argonne National Laboratory in the southwest suburbs.

Nuclear physicist Kawtar Hafidi grew up in Morocco, a developing nation she believed would benefit from science. Boyana Norris moved to the U.S. from Bulgaria when she was 17, shortly after the fall of Communism in her home country.

Hafidi had dreams of being a famous scientist, while Norris simply loved the work of her father, a computer science professor.

Hafidi was not planning a family. Norris was already pregnant.

Over a decade later, both women are accomplished scientists — and moms.

Both still work at Argonne and are co-chairpersons of the 24th annual Science Careers in Search of Women conference being held on Thursday at the sprawling national laboratory near southwest suburban Lemont.

The all-day event will give over 350 girls and young women from 56 Chicago-area high schools the opportunity to meet women scientists from such fields as biology, chemistry, engineering, materials science, mathematics, computer science, and physics.

The purpose of the event is “to motivate them to follow their interests, regardless of what they may be told,” Norris, the keynote speaker, said.

Norris’ speech will be called “Confessions of a Juggler: How to (not) Succeed at Everything.”

Norris, 38, is married to another computer scientist and has three school-age children. “I didn’t plan on being a world famous scientist, or I wouldn’t have had any kids,” Norris said. “It’s just incompatible with keeping everyone happy.”

Hafidi, who has a five-year-old son, said: “My dream was to be a great scientist, not to be a mom,” Hafidi said. “Although I am so glad I made the choice to have him after eight years of marriage.”

Both say their divergent paths and goals show that a career in science is possible for any young woman.

Hafidi credits the support of her husband, who is also a physicist, with helping her balance parenting and a career. “He really is a champion,” Hafidi says. “I could not have done it without my husband.”

Hafidi said that in Morocco there are more female scientists than in the U.S. “However, it was a bit challenging, the girls have to help in the house, they have to clean, wash the dishes. We didn’t have much time left for doing homework,” Hafidi said.

Another challenge is the lack of women in leadership positions. “In the physics division we have two women, myself and an engineer, and so it gets lonely,” Hafidi said. “You need more women mentors to help guide you.”

They hope Thursday’s event will help fill that void.

“Some of the girls who came here as high school students are now working in the lab,” Hafidi said.

The conference will begin at 8:30 a.m. with a moderated discussion called “Develop Your Mind- Change the World” and will end with panel sessions and career booths at 3:45 p.m.

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.