Women Breaking Through Stem: An Interview with Nadine El Tahany, Petroleum and Energy Engineering Student at the AUC

Women Breaking Through Stem: An Interview with Nadine El Tahany, Petroleum and Energy Engineering Student at the AUC

Nadine El Tanahy, a senior Petroleum and Energy Engineering student at the American University in Cairo (AUC), is among an increasing number of women breaking stereotypes and joining the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) field. She works as a part-time production engineer at Apache alongside her university studies, and was the winner of the STEM Star of the Year Award at the Egypt Petroleum Show (EGYPS 2019) Women in Energy Awards ceremony, held on February 13 in Cairo. Nadine spoke to Egypt Oil & Gas about her aspirations after graduating and her views on the opportunities for female employees in the petroleum industry.

What encouraged you to pursue a career in Petroleum Engineering?

Majoring in Petroleum and Energy Engineering was a huge challenge for me on so many levels, but my inner instinct pushed me to pursue this challenge. I believe that we only grow when we challenge ourselves.

When I was in high school, I was not planning to study petroleum engineering at all; I only thought of my options in the medical field. As my graduation approached, my mindset began to change. I asked myself if I really wanted to do that or if I was just thinking about it because there are many doctors in my family. At that point, I started exploring other fields. I was very attracted to engineering, not for petroleum engineering per se, honestly speaking, but to energy concentration. I planned to study economics along with engineering, and pursue a career as an “energy economist”. Of course, this changed now, but I think this is normal, this is life. You explore options within options, and eventually life takes you to where you are meant to be.

Did your family welcome and support this decision?

Not really, especially in the beginning. They were really worried about the field of petroleum engineering for a girl and how uncommon it is to pursue such a major rather than other “more girly” fields of study. However, as the time went by, they were convinced, accepted my decision and understood my motives. They definitely became my biggest supporters, even though until now they sometimes pick on me and say that I should have stayed in Medical School, since I am still registered there and could go back whenever I want to; but it is very normal, especially for mothers, to be concerned.

How did you learn about EGYPS Women in Energy Awards? Who encouraged you to apply?

I knew about the Awards ceremony from several sorts of media. When I told my family and friends, they all encouraged me to apply for it. I also knew about the Women in Energy Conference of EGYPS’s last edition, and I was really happy and motivated by all the women who were nominated and chosen for the awards.

How did you land a job at a major company like Apache?

I started doing internships from my third year in university, and that really helped me a lot in finding my career path, and although my journey just started a couple of months ago, it really helped to have growing connections in the industry, as well as proving myself where I work. The challenge is to prove yourself as a hard worker and an achiever, and not be a quitter or a deadbeat; your work can really show that.

In 2017, I applied for a four-week summer internship in Apache, and after a couple of interviews I was accepted. In January 2018, I had an internship with Schlumberger, based at Qarun Petroleum Company, working on a Schlumberger software. Later in March, I knew that Khalda Petroleum Company (KPC) was implementing the same software, and because I had prior knowledge about it, Apache asked if I could work on the implementation in KPC as a part-timer alongside my studies, and I started working there last April.

It is not easy to have a part-time job while pursuing an Engineering degree, especially when you have a graduation project to work on, but with proper time management along with the right prioritization, it gets better and easier.

How can we make it easier for women to work in field production and remote areas?

Working in the field and remote areas is hard for nearly everyone, men and women. Although men and women share several challenges, some of these challenges are still exclusive to women. Flexibility, acceptance, and privacy are the three main factors that, if ensured, will make it easier for women to work in the field. I want to shed a spotlight on the point of “acceptance”, as I think that many of the difficulties that women may face in the field are due to the lack of acceptance.

What is your biggest goal, professionally?

I cannot specifically say my “biggest goal”, because as rhetorical as it might sound, my goals are very dynamic and get bigger every day. Nonetheless, one thing I know and can tell you is that at each point in my life, I have always wanted to add value. Whether to a workplace, a team, friends, or my family, anywhere and anytime, I believe you can only say you are an “achiever” when you add value and make a difference.

What would you tell your fellow students who are pursuing a degree in Energy and Petroleum Engineering?

I want to tell them many things. I want them to dream big, know there is nothing that they cannot achieve, or a target that they cannot reach. Dream as big as you can. The sky is the limit. I am sure that if you dream big, you go places.


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