Women In STEM: Meet Mbasan Mariam Jallow, Health Psychologist & Researcher

Meet Mbasan Mariam Jallow

By: Awa Conteh 

Welcome back to another inspiring episode of our Women in STEM column!

This week, we have the privilege of delving into the fascinating world of health psychology and research as we spotlight Ms. Mbasan Mariam Jallow, fondly called ‘Saro,’ a pioneering health psychologist and researcher whose ground-breaking work is not only shaping the future of healthcare but also paving the way for greater gender diversity and inclusivity in the STEM fields. 

Get ready to be inspired by the incredible journey of a woman whose passion for understanding the human psyche has led to transformative advancements in Health and Well-being.

Ms. Jallow spent most of her childhood in The Gambia, and at the age of 11, she and her family returned to the UK, where she continued her education. Her career as a health psychologist began with an undergraduate degree in psychology, followed by a year of clinical work experience in a mental health facility in London, social services, and an internship at a medical center in The Gambia. 

After completing a Master’s in Health Psychology, she worked as a research assistant at University College London. She began her Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology in 2020 and has been juggling employment and school for the past three years. She has also worked on a variety of projects, including consulting with organizations, developing and delivering psychological interventions, and, most recently, an internship at MRC Gambia, where she developed a training program for nurses and delivered psychological sessions to patients about pain management, lifestyle changes, and mental Wellbeing.

Commitments to Human Wellbeing 

The most fascinating aspect of Ms. Jallow’s path is her childhood hopes of becoming a homemaker/housewife one day, an interior designer the next, a fashion designer, and finally, an architect. She aspired to write but couldn’t decide what to write about. She had a creative side that she liked. Still, she lacked the confidence or discipline to pursue vs. a practical side that included studying for a helpful degree and finding a steady career with room for advancement. Like many of us in our formative years, she was fueled by an insatiable curiosity, a thirst to explore the limitless possibilities that life had to offer. Yet, as the years passed, a distinct passion emerged that grew deep within her. She couldn’t deny the desire to unravel the secrets of the human mind and its profound connection to our physical Well-being. She had discovered an ideal medium with health psychology, envisioning the ability to construct wellness programs, produce articles and research papers, and, most significantly, have the flexibility to devote time to other parts of her life. In her story, we see echoes of our own changing aspirations and the profound impact of pursuing our real passions, illustrating that the way to greatness is often paved by the heart’s unshakable compass amid the maelstrom of childhood fantasies.

Mothers as role models 

Mariam’s role model is her mother, who moved five daughters between two countries before settling in the one that best suits their destinies. She taught them to never set limits for themselves and to always aim high. Her mother wanted her to study medicine but was emphatic that she would not become a doctor. She attempted to persuade her for nearly a year, but she refused. She agreed to let her study psychology only if she proceeded to the doctoral level, which she did. So here she is, attempting to fulfill that vow with Allah’s will.

Work-Life Balance 

Achieving work-life balance is as important as the research itself. Ms. Jallow is still working on this, juggling her job, earning her doctorate, being a mother to a three-year-old, and fulfilling her religious duties. Despite the hectic nature of her career and personal life, the most important lesson she has learned is to set priorities and take pauses as needed. As a single woman attempting to do multiple things at once, she often cannot devote her full attention to all of life’s demands, and she has learned to accept this. She does what she can, tries to relax when she can, and still struggles with asking for help when she needs it. Allah is her source of resilience, and her family has been a huge support; her sisters and mother have assisted her enormously in pursuing her doctorate and working toward her life goals.

Breaking Barriers 

As a Black Muslim woman living in London, Mariam may have experienced biases not restricted to her gender or the sum of other people’s natural disposition regardless of her identification. There are important moments, such as her A-level psychology teacher predicting a grade B despite her conviction that she could obtain an A. Similarly, when her academic counselor suggested that she settle for a 2:1 rather than the 1st class, she was aiming for. She felt belittled because they saw her as unable. That served as inspiration for her to work harder. But the power of prayer, not her efforts, brought her triumph. She prayed so much for Allah’s help that she couldn’t put them all on herself when she saw her grades. There is a common misconception that hard work equals success. She realizes as she grows older that this is only sometimes the case. She recalls the numerous emails and applications she sent in search of work experience, supervision, doctorate applications, interviews, and failures. Despite all these setbacks, this remarkable woman refused to yield to adversity. Instead, she transformed each setback into a stepping stone, harnessing the strength of determination to propel herself forward. Her story is a testament to the unyielding human spirit, demonstrating that no challenge, however daunting, can overshadow the radiance of one’s potential.

Envisioning an Inclusive Future

In terms of how she envisions the future of women’s representation in fields such as health psychology and research, she believes that in the United Kingdom, women, in general, are well represented in psychology but not so much in research. She also believes that when it comes to ethnic and religious variety, representation becomes more complex. However, she agrees that there is rising recognition of the importance of mental and physical health in The Gambia.

“Women, in particular, can be the driving force to further change people’s mentality about Health. As women, mothers, daughters, and sisters. Etc. We need to take a more proactive role in our Health, our knowledge and practices and ensuring access to accurate information. I would encourage more people in the Gambia to consider a career in psychology as there is definitely a need for it, and the positive impact that you could have is immense”, she told this medium.  

Ms. Jallow is ready to light the sparks of inspiration in the hearts of aspiring female health psychologists with her unrelenting passion and profound commitment to STEM advocacy. She believes that being visible is essential for influencing people. It is critical to raise public awareness of what she does, her experiences, and the importance of health psychology in enhancing our health and well-being. Additionally, she is eager to provide advice and offer assistance in any way she can to individuals seeking to improve themselves and pursue a career in psychology, particularly in The Gambia.

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