x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

She is packing heat ... and brains

This Emirati sharpshooter and Mensa member has an IQ of 156, an engineering qualification, an MBA and can handle a shotgun better than most.

Maryam Al Thani is breaking down stereotypes in a male-dominated professional field and in a sport that involves guns.
Maryam Al Thani is breaking down stereotypes in a male-dominated professional field and in a sport that involves guns.

DUBAI // Maryam Al Thani calmly fires off half-a-dozen rounds from the shotgun nestled on her shoulder.

She is not military trained, nor is she part of an Olympics team - although she does compete in international competitions. Ms Al Thani, who is one of the few Emiratis who belongs to Mensa, said she shoots for the intellectual stimulation it provides.

"It teaches you to have a focused and calm mind," she said. "You learn how to control your anger, because if you are stressed the gun will shake and you will get zero.

"It helps me with decision-making in my work. If you are not focused on your goals, you will lose opportunities because of that."

Ms Al Thani, 35, has an intelligence quotient, IQ, of 156, a level that is classed by psychologists as "genius, or near genius".

She is events co-ordinator for the fledgling and unofficial UAE Mensa chapter, which has not yet been formally recognised by the high-IQ society because of a lack of members.

In her day job, she is the head of the project engineering department at the electrical cable manufacturer Ducab. She graduated with a degree in electrical engineering in 1998 and gained an MBA five years ago.

From Ms Al Thani's achievements, you may think she was an only child, lavished with parental attention. However, she comes from a family of 10 children - five boys and five girls.

Her father is a fisherman and an artist. When Ms Al Thani went to Italy to compete in the 4th Shooting World Cup last year, he came with her to paint the countryside surrounding the town of Lonato, on Lake Garda, where the tournament was held.

Ms Al Thani said that her family have supported her through her career.

"I grew up in an educated family," she said. "They taught us to choose for ourselves and be responsible for our choices."

Although she now lives in Dubai, she likes to go back regularly to Ras al Khaimah, where she was brought up and where her family still live.

A career in engineering is not a typical one for a woman, not only in the Emirates. However, Ms Al Thani said that the only time she had experienced prejudice in the workforce, it had come from western managers.

"There were only a few women there and none were in a senior position," she said. "I always felt that men wanted me to leave, because perhaps they felt that it wasn't a good environment for a woman."

Now, she believes that the role of women has changed, especially in engineering. A large forum, entitled Women in Engineering, was held in February and inaugurated by a woman that Ms Al Thani considers a role model - Sheikha Lubna Al Qassimi, the Minister of Foreign Trade.

However, she first learnt about the legacy of strong women from her mother, who typically looked after the bills and the raising of a large family while her father was away at sea.

She remembers being told an old story of a Bahraini fisherman who was surprised after landing in Dubai to find women in the souqs selling the fish their husbands had caught.

"Women have always been well respected here," she said.

Ms Al Thani took up skeet shooting - clay pigeon shooting - several years back. She has struggled in her pursuit for excellence in the sport since, because she had not been able to find a coach. She believes she is the only Emirati to have taken up a role in the sport.

She was recently reunited with her rifle, which is licensed from Ras al Khaimah shooting club. It arrived back from Italy three months after she did, after taking a turn in the Dubai International Airport customs office.

"How can I practise if my gun is sleeping in the airport?" she said. "Waiting for it to arrive was like waiting to give birth."

She became a member of Mensa eight years ago, after she took a Figure Reasoning Test - a multiple choice IQ exam based on logic and shapes. It was designed for applicants who do not have English as a native language.

She has also won the respect of other members of the local Mensa chapter. Ronny Labban, a 38-year-old Lebanese computer engineer, and the head co-ordinator for the small Mensa group in the UAE, said that Ms Al Thani was an inspiration.

"She's very well organised and a driven person," he said. "She's very inspiring and a pleasure to work with. Above all though, she's a good friend."

Ms Al Thani's interest in Mensa stems from a long-held fascination with self-improvement, which began when she found a personality analysis book in her school library.

"I've always looked at myself and tried to find out how I can overcome my shyness or improve myself," she said. "I've always wanted to be better today than I was yesterday."

mcroucher@thenational.ae

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