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Through diversity science flourishes    Feb 01, 2019

Through diversity science flourishes
Feb 01, 2019


Mevrouw Assia TIANE



Great scientists come in all shapes and sizes. An inclusive scientific workforce draws from a wide range of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, ensuring innovation and creativity. It is through diversity that science flourishes. Today on “World Hijab Day”, we talk with Ph.D. student Assia Tiane, a young Muslim woman who researches the progressive phase of Multiple Sclerosis at UHasselt.


“You can’t have unity without diversity” – Richard Twiss.

There are few people who radiate more joy of life, positivity, and wisdom than Assia Tiane. Assia recently obtained a master’s degree in biomedical sciences, as the only one of her year to graduate summa cum laude. But it didn’t stop there. Her excellent study results, positive mindset, and unwavering levels of motivation and empathy also resulted in her winning the ‘Best Limburg Internee’ prize (Voka) and ‘Diversity’ prize (UHasselt/Het Belang van Limburg). A top student who is now on her way to become a top scientist, as she just started her Ph.D. at UHasselt with a prestigious FWO-grant.

Q: “So what’s life like being a role model?

A: “I was kind of overwhelmed by all the attention I received after winning these prizes, though it sure was a really exciting and positive experience. To be honest, I never saw myself as a role model for others. Whenever I look back at what I’ve done in the past years I don’t see anything special. Yes, I studied hard and constantly raised the bar for myself; but so did many of my co-students. There are a lot of people at UHasselt with a migration background who have excellent study results. Probably more than enough to award a prize every month or so (laughs). However, I do feel extremely honored that I was nominated by the Faculty of Medicine and Life Sciences for the Diversity Prize.

Q: “Do you think it’s important to award such prizes?

A: “Personally, I think it’s a wonderful initiative. It all started for me when my sister Imane won the ‘Diversity Prize’ a couple of years ago. It was the same year that I started my journey here at UHasselt. But every year since that day, I have closely followed the competition. The stories of the other winners were so inspiring to me. Today’s media is flooded with negative articles on people with a migration background, so it’s nice when the positive stories receive some spotlight as well for a change.


Q: “Did you ever feel like having a migration background held you back as compared to other students?

A: ”I know that life can be hard for a lot of young people with a migration background. The obstacles between them and studying at a university are simply too big and demotivating to overcome. However, this was not the case for me. Despite being one of the only Muslims with Moroccan roots at my high school, I never felt disadvantaged or that I had to prove myself more. I was never angry at the world. Instead, I focused on my own development. In the end, I was born and raised in the same country as my native Belgian friends. Of course, I did had to work hard, like everyone else, to get where I am now. I think one of the greatest success factors was the support of my family and friends. You should never underestimate how stimulating a loving and caring environment can be.

Q: ”Today is world hijab day. What does wearing a headscarf mean to you?

A: ”I identify myself as a practicing Muslim. One of the values of Islam is modesty, both for men and women, which can be implemented in many ways such as cloths, the way you treat people, life style, etc. Everyone can decide for themselves how they incorporate it into their life. For me, it’s wearing a headscarf. It makes me feel complete.

Q: “There are still a lot of misconceptions surrounding it. What is the biggest one you’ve encountered so far?

A: “Even to this day, there are still people who believe that hijab/headscarf is a way to oppress women. This is not the case at all. On the contrary, Muslim women often feel empowered when they make the choice to wear one. The Muslim woman of today is educated, knows her rights and is the only one who has anything to say about her own body. It is only when people try to make decisions for her that her freedom is violated.

Q: “Does it influence your daily life as a scientist?

A: “Luckily, it doesn’t. I always wear a cotton headscarf and not a synthetic one. So when it comes to fire safety, I’m good to go. The only problem I sometimes have is a fashion one, as the color of my scarf doesn’t always match with my bright white lab coat (laughs). Also, the academic environment at UHasselt has always been very divers, open minded and inclusive (Something that should be a given everywhere in 2019). That’s why I love working here.


Q: “You just received an FWO-scholarship, how does that feel?

A: “One word: euphoric. Despite all the stress, tears and sleepless nights it was worth it. For me, it’s my biggest personal achievement and I am very proud of it. I already look forward to the road ahead.

Q: “So what does that road look like? What is your research all about?

A: “I’m looking at new ways to monitor disease progression of patients with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in a more efficient and faster. MS is one of the most common neurological diseases in young adults that frequently leads to permanent disability. The research I will execute during my Ph.D. might also aid in the development of new effective treatments against progressive MS, which are to this day non-existent.

Q: “Our final question: what does the future hold for Assia Tiane?

A: “Despite the fact that I realize that a difficult road lies ahead, I want to stay in the academic world. If it is up to me, I will do this for the rest of my life. Who knows, perhaps one day, I will be amongst the first headscarf wearing professors in Belgium?"