Beyond the Lab Coat: From Materials Science to Program Management

Beyond the Lab Coat: From Materials Science to Program Management


Petra Salame moderates a regional teacher training course for the introduction to nuclear sciences at secondary schools in the Philippines. As Senior Program Management Officer, she leads technical projects in various areas of nuclear science and technology. (Photo: Philippine Nuclear Research Institute)

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Petra Salame moderates a regional teacher training course for the introduction to nuclear sciences at secondary schools in the Philippines. As Senior Program Management Officer, she leads technical projects in various areas of nuclear science and technology. (Photo: Philippine Nuclear Research Institute)

Salame received tempting job offers from some of the world’s leading chemical companies, but turned them down after a phone call that changed her career forever: “Congratulations, you have been selected for a position as Junior Professional Officer at the IAEA!”

Salame joined the IAEA’s Department of Physical and Chemical Sciences, where she provided technical assistance in the development and implementation of materials research activities for nuclear and energy applications around the world.

“My next step was from a technical position to a more senior position in the IAEA’s Technical Cooperation Department, which gave me the opportunity to lead mostly engineering projects in various areas of nuclear science and technology, from food to agriculture to towards the development of nuclear energy. ”She remembers her time as a PMO for several Arab countries. “I couldn’t think of a better transition than a position that unites all aspects of my interests: technical, business and development-oriented, proposing innovative solutions to real-world challenges using nuclear technology.”

After ending her first seven years at the IAEA in 2019, Salame began working as an invited researcher with the University of Tokyo to support the application of radiation technology for advanced material development and radiation protection systems. “This process of constant learning is central to the work of PMOs,” said Salame, “and so the experience of researching and applying novel technologies made possible by the University of Tokyo has been both edifying and informative.”

The head of the team she joined in Tokyo fondly remembers her. “Petra has a remarkable ‘get things’ attitude and that, along with her positive personality and strong work ethic, makes her a formidable technical professional and manager alike,” said Iimoto Takeshi, professor at the University of Tokyo. “In particular, their willingness to take on new challenges and their outreach skills have helped to advance important parts of our research.”

She is also a project manager in real life: in addition to her professional dreams and noticeable developmental effects, she is also raising three small children – a real juggling thing. “Coping with the constant demands of PMO tasks while giving my children all the love and support they need has pushed me into a new dimension. It wasn’t always easy, but you just take up the challenge and move on! “

In November 2020 Salame returned to the IAEA as Senior Program Management Officer and took on new management and coordination tasks. “As PMOs, we are determined and determined to address some of the most pressing global socio-economic problems, and to find and deliver solutions wherever they are needed.”

The IAEA pursues gender equality in the organization and encourages women to fill positions. Read more about the IAEA’s focus on Gender equality.

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