ccording to Carland, Aly handled the rejection graciously. “He moved on with his life and I moved on with mine, but I realised, in the back of my mind, I was always comparing other guys to him. And I was, ‘Why am I doing that? I don’t even like this guy.’ And then I realised: ‘Oh, I really do like him. Oh no, what have I done?’” she says with a laugh. “So I had to go grovelling back.”
Aly acknowledges the rejection was “obviously pretty crushing, but what else could I do?” He tried to move on but admittedly didn’t get very far. “Anyway, turns out I must be at my most endearing when I’m completely absent because it actually wasn’t that long before she got back in touch to say she’d made a terrible mistake,” he tells Stellar. They were married in 2002 and now live in Melbourne’s inner-city Richmond.
After 16 years of marriage, Carland says the secret to their union is that they both have a healthy – and sweet – sense of gratitude. “We both sort of look at each other and go, ‘How did I get so lucky?’”
As for Aly, The Project host appears in awe of Carland. “Whatever impression you have [of Carland], you’re underrating her,” he says, perhaps pointing to the habit of some in the media referring to her as “Waleed Aly’s wife” in spite of her impressive credentials. “On the flip side, if we turned up at the UN or something I’m sure I’d very firmly be Susan Carland’s husband,” Aly points out.
Certainly for her other new gig, hosting the awards ceremony in Melbourne this Thursday for the prestigious L’oréal- UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship program, which recognises the most outstanding female scientific researchers in Australia, the focus will be firmly placed on women. L’oréal Australia has now expanded the program to include two Girls in Science forums as well as a mentoring program for female secondary and tertiary students. For Carland, it is a subject close to her heart.
“I did a science degree in university as well as an arts degree. I love science. I remember in my chemistry class, there were maybe only two other girls in there,” she says. “[The program] is about pushing women forward and saying, ‘ This is what women in science look like. This is how it’s successful and good and something you can aspire to.’”
While Carland is increasingly used to being in the spotlight in a professional capacity, she finds the attention on her personal life more difficult to reconcile. She is not afraid to be vocal with her opinions – from the hijab (“How I dress is not a statement on how anyone else dresses. Morality is not defined by the clothes you wear”) to how feminism and Islam can coexist (“I did my whole PHD on Muslim women who fight sexism. I find it a lazy misunderstanding that people just fall back on old tropes, and this can come from inside and outside the Muslim community”).
“What I realised very early on is that if you try to keep everybody happy, you will go bananas,” she says of the risk that can come with speaking her mind. “There will always be someone who has a problem with what you do. Since when did being universally liked become the goal? The most important people in the world had people who hated them. All I can do is try to live a life of integrity.”