I was born in Lebanon at the outbreak of a civil war that lasted almost 17 years, setting my childhood against a ruthless backdrop. I went on to study agricultural engineering at the American University of Beirut, in Lebanon, followed by a master’s degree in soil sciences at the same institution. My next academic challenge took me to the United States, where I did my Ph.D. in environmental soil chemistry at West Virginia University. An unapologetic perfectionist, I strive for excellence in everything I do, whether it’s my professional work, my fitness regime, or making baked goods for the most important people in my life—my children.
A lifetime of passion to achieve excellence
Her pursuit of excellence has allowed Professor Rafif Srour to celebrate incredible achievements, having a successful career and a fulfilling personal life. Yet she also admits keeping to high standards can be tiring and frustrating, especially when she is burdened with work and life in general. The answer for Rafif has been to create a balance, using the power of perfection to have a successful professional life, while also ensuring she has time for her personal passions.
Teaching has been a central part of Rafif’s life since her Ph.D. days. After completing her research in 2004, she became a visiting assistant professor at West Virginia University. She was responsible for supervising graduate students alongside carrying out her own research in the lab. Rafif rose to the challenge while also developing a mindset of growth and resilience in the face of uncertainty.
Her first teaching experiences led to more professional success. She worked for three years as a postdoc research assistant at the American University of Beirut. During this time, she interacted with engineers and farmers, training them on new technologies in the field. It was an interesting experience and Rafif found it challenging to introduce people to new concepts. She also spent some time as a consultant for a few different clients.
In 2014, Rafif returned to teaching full time, joining IE University as a professor, which she balances with her role as the Director of the Bachelor in Data and Business Analytics. This is a dream job for her as she is a strong advocate of teaching and enjoys university settings. In fact, the running joke she has with her students is “I loved university so much, I never wanted to leave.” They say the best jokes have a grain of truth—this one has much more.
She teaches mathematics and statistics at all levels, a fundamental aspect of many degree programs. The skills she teaches are useful for students throughout their higher education, and are often applied even afterwards. Rafif gains a lot of satisfaction from professor-student interaction, and appreciates how enriching it can be as a learning experience for both parties.
This is something she discovered when doing her Ph.D., but she credits becoming an academic director with providing a new perspective of the academic world. She now has a better understanding of the behind the scenes. She has helped create a program from scratch that is designed to push the limits of what students can achieve, and has learned to work effectively with colleagues while developing it. The experience has given her a more profound understanding that nothing in life is easy: change requires fighting, and embracing repeated failure until you achieve what you want.
This mindset and passion is central to every aspect of Rafif’s life, and has allowed her to reach her goals. In her free time, she is a self-professed fitness freak and tries to work out five times a week. She also loves dancing and baking but, above all, she is a devoted mother to her kids, who she considers her biggest passion.