Get to know Yasmeen Alfaraj

Yasmeen was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, transitioned to California to receive her B.S. in Chemistry from UC Berkeley, and braved New England’s winters to pursue her PhD in Chemistry at MIT. When we asked Yasmeen about her motivation to pursue science, she recalled an early experiment from her childhood: collecting and organizing ants into different jars and feeding them various things. While her parents weren’t very happy about having jars of ants around the house, Yasmeen found an interest in observing how her actions affected the world around her.

Ants weren’t the only thing that influenced Yasmeen to pursue a STEM education. Her mom, an ophthalmologist who began her specialization during Yasmeen’s formative years, and her dad, a computer engineer, always emphasized the importance of education. Saudi Arabia also has many great programs that foster involvement in STEM, such as foundations like Mawhiba, which Yasmeen is very proud to have been a part of. Mawhiba connects students to educational programs, competitions, and research experiences in STEM. Through Mawhiba, Yasmeen’s first lab experience was in the KAUST Catalysis Center working with a great advisor and mentor, who trained her on how to work in a lab and how to communicate her work in front of her peers. Her experience in Mawhiba proved to be life-changing, heavily influencing her views on academia and her home country of Saudi Arabia. 

Yasmeen found herself applying and eventually choosing MIT Chemistry because of the great mentors she had on her journey, which complemented her desire to work on fundamental research while also exploring application-based research. After six months at home in Saudi Arabia due to the pandemic, Yasmeen is now entering her third year in graduate school as a PhD candidate in Professor Jeremiah Johnson’s lab investigating data-driven methods for accelerated materials design. Yasmeen recently joined ChemREFS, where she most enjoys events aimed at building a sense of community in the department, as well as conversations with the other student groups, including WIC+. She also finds support in multiple communities she identifies with, such as those in her Chemistry and PPSM cohort, friends from Saudi Arabia who also live in the Boston area, colleagues from Berkeley who ended up coming to Boston, and the newest member of her family: her cat Namla.

When asked about advice for incoming students, Yasmeen says to treat every day as a learning experience—including lab work and interpersonal interactions—and to lean on the people around you when you are experiencing hard moments. She emphasizes that we are not alone here.