By Martha Delgado
Ever since Fatima Zaidouni was young, she had an interest in physics and astronomy. “It was always fascinating to me to study physics and learn about astronomy,” Zaidouni writes in her Gates Cambridge profile. “I was always intrigued by the challenges that come with trying to understand the inner workings of the universe.”
Graduating from the University of Rochester with a bachelor’s degree in physics and astronomy, and a minor in mathematics, Zaidouni was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa this spring. “Being a part of ΦBK gives me a sense of belonging to the American college experience,” Zaidouni comments. “It is really meaningful for me as an international student.”
In addition to being a newly-minted ΦBK member, Zaidouni has been named a Gates Cambridge Scholar to pursue a masters in astrophysics at the University of Cambridge. She heard about the scholarship from her university’s student fellowship office.
Zaidouni is the sixth alumni and second undergraduate from the University of Rochester to be named a Gates Cambridge Scholar. “I’m very delighted, humbled, and thankful for everything that led to this,” she says. “I’m grateful to everyone in my circle, family, and university that contributed to my success.”
While Zaidouni’s research at Rochester has been primarily focused on computational cosmology, she chose to attend Cambridge to gain knowledge and explore other types of astronomy research. Zaidouni’s previous research experience includes positions at Rochester, Princeton, and UCLA.
According to the Gates Cambridge website, part of their selection criteria is the commitment of their scholars “to improving the lives of others.” Zaidouni firmly supports this commitment and finds it important to use her achievements as a Moroccan woman to motivate others. “When I was younger, I found it inspiring to see people like myself represented in the sciences,” she explains. “Having role models and feeling represented can be powerful. It pushes me forward and makes me believe that I can be whatever I want to be.”
Zaidouni also connects with young students back in Morocco to help them apply for college and scholarships. Previously, Zaidouni gave presentations at the U.S. Embassy to share her experience in Space Camp with other students. “I want to give back to my community as much as possible. It’s important to ‘pay it forward,’” Zaidouni says.
For those wanting to go into the field of astronomy, Zaidouni encourages them to believe in themselves even through adversity. “My advice is to have more faith in oneself,” she says. “It can get hard at times, and it might make you believe that you are not good enough. Imposter syndrome is real.”
When asked about the value of higher education in the liberal arts and sciences, Zaidouni says she recognizes the importance of a balanced approach. “I think an ideal college experience includes both aspects of the liberal arts and sciences,” she explains. “College is more than just accumulating knowledge. It gives you life-long skills and lessons about how to think about problems and how to make valuable connections.”
Zaidouni looks forward to meeting and networking with the other Gates Cambridge Scholars. After completing her master’s at Cambridge, Zaidouni plans to attend MIT for a Ph.D. in astrophysics.
Martha Delgado earned her bachelor’s degree in creative writing from UC Riverside, where she was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa in May 2019. UC Riverside is home to the Iota of California chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.