Carleton Women in STEM: Emma Khazzam

Emma Khazzam is a fifth and final-year Food Science student whose passion for her program and extracurriculars is infectious. 

During her time at Carleton, Emma has been involved in the Carleton Science Student Society as the vice president of operations and is the current vice president of programming. She additionally serves as president of the Carleton Food Science Society and is also completing her honours thesis in Dr. Tyler Avis’ food microbiology lab. 

I was lucky to speak with Emma about her passion for her program, early challenges that lead to her resilience and the benefits of completing her program in five years. 

Choosing a major and Emma’s passion for food science

When thinking back to high school and her decision to pursue food science, Emma described how her passion for food developed from a young age. She first learned to cook with her grandmother as a child and shared how being in the kitchen felt like second nature to her, chalking it up as the reason behind her passion for food. 

Emma also always had an interest in science and had many questions about food, such as “why we need to eat; what makes things taste good when we put them together; what happens when you melt sugar; why does it turn into smooth caramel sometimes and crystallize other times?” 

Finding the food science program required a lot of digging for Emma, as it happens to be very small. However, upon admittance into the food science program, she couldn’t be happier with her choice and how it fits all the things she is passionate about.

“The food science program at Carleton is amazing,” she said. “It’s so interdisciplinary and we learn about so many techniques. It’s really great.” 

Completing her program in five years

Emma has successfully completed her Bachelor of Science program in five years as opposed to the regular four, saying the extra time helped with campus involvement. She made the decision to stretch her program completion before starting university.

“I had not even stepped into a class before I knew that I’d be doing my degree in five years,” Emma said. “I was encouraged to relax my course load to focus on the courses I had and also get involved. I tried to excel at the four (courses) instead of struggle at the five.”

She described feeling accomplished completing her degree in five years and encourages others to do the same if they are able to help lighten the workload. Fortunately for her, she happened to be surrounded by other classmates who also chose to complete their degree in five years as well.

“All of my friends are graduating in five years instead of four, so it’s not like I’m the one that’s left behind,” Emma said. “I have a whole cohort with me because some of them struggled in the beginning and had to retake courses.”

Challenges and resilience

When I asked Emma how she managed to accomplish so much during her time at Carleton, she talked about feeling like she hasn’t done much in her life at times.

“That was a bit of a struggle, not thinking I was doing enough or not thinking I was enough,” she said. “I’ve had to take a step back and analyze my life a bit and think, ‘OK, you have done a lot of stuff, you don’t need to do everything in the world. There are only 24 hours in a day and you sleep for eight of them.’”

Early in her university experience, Emma faced various difficulties. She described how her first test in school was a calculus test and that it didn’t go the way she’d hoped it would.

“I failed that test,” she said. “I thought ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to fail at university.’” 

After taking a step back, Emma said she got a tutor from the match centre to help with the things she didn’t know — and was then able to succeed. That experience made her appreciate the importance of not being afraid to ask for help and helped make her resilient when facing challenges.

“I wasn’t a student where everything was really easy for me,” she said. “I had to work every step of the way. I have different learning disabilities…that made it really challenging.

“When I came to university and was faced with these challenges, I used that perseverance and dedication to overcome them. I’m not someone who sees a challenge and gives up right away.”

Time management

When I asked Emma how she managed her various extracurricular commitments, she immediately showed me her whiteboard and daily schedule for the day we met. 

“I set goals for the week and make a schedule every day of every single thing I’m going to do,” she said. “I also have a Google calendar because I have a lot of meetings with the different societies.” 

Emma also took breaks to balance out her busy schedule and made an effort to free some time to catch up with her friends.

“I try to incorporate some sort of movement every day and I try to go outside every day,” she said. “When I’m outside, I make sure I call a friend on my walk to get that social aspect back into university life.”

Plans after graduation

After graduation, Emma plans to attend graduate school in the Netherlands; specifically a program in food technology with a specialization in sensory science. 

“I’m not done learning, I’m not done in my education. I want to learn more,” she said. “I’m curious about how our senses interact with the food we eat and how can we apply that to product development and food safety.”

Emma has always been keen to attend graduate school. She described how the part of Europe where the Netherlands is located harbours a lot of innovation in terms of food science, making it the perfect spot for her to be. This came after years of research on what masters program would be the best fit for her.

“I’ve probably looked at over 40 schools in total that study food science,” Emma said. “It’s a really specified field and I’m interested in a specific part of this field.”

Finishing her undergraduate degree and celebrating during a pandemic

When asked about how she plans to celebrate finishing her degree, Emma said she wants to do something ceremonious to commemorate all she has accomplished. She wants to avoid the anticlimactic end of finishing her final exam and closing her laptop only to realize that her undergrad degree has been completed.

“I don’t plan on doing anything that would put anyone in danger,” she said. “Maybe go walk in the tulips and then have my dad call my name and I walk up to my dad and he shakes my hand.”

Before attending graduate school, Emma plans to take a break from academia. Last summer she worked at an organic farm that uses techniques she studied, and that is where she plans to return this summer.

Advice for other undergraduate women in STEM

“I would just encourage people to get involved,” Emma said. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be in science, but places where they think they’ll find like-minded individuals.” 

Emma thinks having a balance of different commitments is important and encourages students to get involved in campus activities outside of their field of study that bring them joy.

“It can be hard if every moment of your day is science. Achieving a balance is important so then you don’t get all consumed by it,” she said.

 

I would like to thank Emma for being so open and for taking the time to chat with me about her educational and personal journey!