The UWI celebrates stellar scholar in Astronomy, Professor Shirin Haque

The University of the West Indies (The UWI) is celebrating Professor Shirin Haque, who has made history as the first in her field to rise to the regional University’s highest academic rank. The UWI alumna is not only the first Professor in the field of Astronomy at The UWI, but also the first in the English-speaking Caribbean. In fact, she is the only professional Astronomer in the region.

The outstanding scholar is one of The UWI’s five newest academics promoted to the rank of Professor with effect from May, 2022. Like her counterparts, Professor Haque earned her promotion through evaluation of the quality and quantity of her research, publications and other professional activities by internal and external assessors and received outstanding reviews.

Congratulating the new Professor, Vice-Chancellor of The UWI, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles praised Professor Haque for illuminating both The UWI and the Caribbean on the world stage. “This brilliant star has been an exemplar for women in science and aspiring astronomers for decades and is truly deserving of this historic promotion.” “The University community, he added, “is especially proud that she has received her tutoring and dedicated her academic service here at The UWI. She embodies excellence and the University’s mission to advance learning, create knowledge and foster innovation for the positive transformation of the Caribbean and the world.”

Among Professor Haque’s qualifications include a PhD in Physics (Astronomy) from The UWI, St. Augustine Campus in collaboration with the Department of Astronomy at the University of Virginia on an IDB Fellowship, as well as an MPhil in Physics (Astronomy), an MPhil in Psychology and a BSc in Physics, all from The UWI, St. Augustine Campus.

Before her professorial appointment, she served as a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Physics at St. Augustine. She was the only student pursuing and graduating from the Department of Physics at St. Augustine in Astronomy for decades until the seven postgraduate students she supervised.

Professor Haque’s main research interests include astrobiology, observational astronomy, cosmology, and solar astronomy. She has also published in cross-disciplinary fields on psychology cultural studies in science, women in science, and science education, and she has earned a total of TT$2.8 million in research grants. She led The UWI to be the only non-US partner in a multi-University initiative in Radio Astronomy and secured funding for local students.

She has published many scholarly works of note, including a publication in the prestigious journal Science in Astrobiology. The themes of observational astronomy, astrobiology, and physics are explored throughout five book chapters, and thirty-six discipline-specific publications. Her other publications include seven non-discipline-specific publications and six technical reports, as well as thirty-three conference presentations and papers. She has also edited four conference publications, produced eighteen science magazine issues, and produced four documentaries, two series for television, and numerous online media and popular science articles.

Her accolades include the Anthony N. Sabga Caribbean Awards for Excellence for Science and Technology in 2020. In 2018, she was the first female awardee of the CARICOM Science Award and earned the Outstanding Woman Award UWI 70th Anniversary from the Institute for Gender and Development Studies. She has also received The UWI Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2005 and the international AAU Distinguished Teacher Award in 2004 among many others. Her long list of trailblazing successes began as a UWI student when she won The Most Outstanding Thesis Award in 1997 and 1998 after reading for her PhD.

Following the review of the extent of her work, one of her external assessors commented, “In short, Dr. Haque has a varied research programme that has made some important contributions to fields including accreting supermassive black holes with powerful relativistic jets (the so-called “blazars”), as well as astrobiology, in particular the viability of life in environments such as oil droplets or asphalt deserts, through experiments in pitch lakes and mud volcanoes…All of her work is clearly original, and several of her papers have been highly cited. Dr. Haque’s unusual breadth of interests, her initiative in creating new observational and experimental programmes, and her engagement with undergraduate students in an environment where it is challenging to attract graduate students, make her publication record impressive in context.”

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