United Arab Emirates UniversityBoosting research through excellence in teaching

Boosting research through excellence in teaching

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Graduate researchers at UAEU receive unparalleled support to share their knowledge through teaching, with access to state-of-the-art facilities and potential for international collaboration

When Amaria Javid was looking to pursue a PhD in theoretical physics, she approached departments at a number of universities. The friendly and enthusiastic response she received from faculty members of the United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) immediately won her over. “I reached out to the chair of the department who answered all my questions, and was amazed to see the profile of the faculty. Then I was inspired by the campus facilities and decided to do my PhD here.”

UAEU offers graduate programmes across all of its nine colleges in multiple disciplines. Located away from UAE’s tourist centres in the “oasis” city of Al Ain, its colleges offer modern facilities equipped with cutting-edge technology, and a green and peaceful environment in which to conduct teaching and research. The university’s Science and Innovation Park works closely alongside business and public institutions on research of strategic importance for the country, and has a reputation for employing highly innovative graduates.

Teaching sits at the heart of UAEU’s postgraduate research and students are both supported and encouraged to develop their skills and confidence. Ameera Fares Rashid Mohammad, a PhD student and research assistant at the College of Engineering, joined the university in 2011 to complete a masters in engineering and quickly received a scholarship to become a teaching assistant, which meant she received a salary and expenses. Her research focuses on carbon dioxide capture and brine desalination and attracts external funding from major engineering firm Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC).

When she began her PhD, she also enrolled on the university’s graduate studies programme, which coaches postgraduates in teaching theory and practice so that they feel prepared to go into the classroom. “In the first semester we look at how to structure a session, how to use interactive resources, what classes might look like,” she explains. “Then in the second semester you go into teaching practice, which is very useful. You’re assigned to teach as an assistant to another professor, you get your own lectures to deliver and office hours. It was a bit scary in the beginning but because I have the experience of the first semester and the tools and ideas, that gave me more confidence to deliver a class.” With classes moving online because of the coronavirus, Ms Mohammad was surprised at how prepared she felt to deliver her courses virtually. “There were more than 40 students online but it went really smoothly because I felt prepared,” she explains.

Ms Javid has also found the training support offered by UAEU invaluable for teaching students. While she studies theoretical physics, she has also received training in related subjects such as experimental physics and computational skills, as well as attended general skills classes such as how to write research proposals. She customises her preparation courses based on her future goals. “The [education] classes help you see how to teach, manage a class, follow a course outline and grade assessments, but also help you learn more about the teaching culture at UAEU,” she says. Meeting graduates from other disciplines on the research proposal course has increased her network of peers in related subjects. “The beauty of this is you can see what others are working on and see if there is potential to collaborate,” she says.

Teaching has proven complementary to both graduates’ research pursuits. Ms Javid adds: “If you’re doing a PhD you can end up narrowing yourself, but this programme broadens and refreshes your knowledge because you’re teaching a whole course. I prefer to teach as I pursue my PhD as it means I can stay in touch with the foundations of my subject.”

Ms Mohammad believes that UAEU’s approach has helped her gain confidence in crucial aspects of postgraduate research, such as how to present data effectively and build a convincing argument. “You need good communication to discuss something in a tutorial with a student and to be successful in your research, or to show data in a convincing way to a conference audience,” she explains.

For students with an eye on international collaborations with other academic institutions or industry, UAEU can offer both financial support and mentorship. When students submit their research proposal, they can include international collaborations with particular universities and departments and this can attract more funding. Ms Mohammad worked with KU Leuven University in Belgium to discuss her research progress. “I visited the chemical engineering department labs and conducted several experiments under the auspicious supervision of my advisor and lab engineers,” she says. She believes the international collaboration with KULU will be an “incredible opportunity” for PhD students from both universities.

Likewise, in the first year of her PhD, Ms Javid was selected to travel to Tsinghua University in China for a worldwide competition of doctoral students. She won the competition and felt the university really acknowledged her achievements on her return. She has also received support to attend a workshop in France and present at an international conference in Italy. She adds: “There is a great platform and facilities here, with financial support and motivation from your faculty. UAEU provides the opportunity to travel abroad and a good budget – they provide everything from accommodation to transport, as well as the budget for your research.”

The ethos at UAEU is one of freedom and support. “If you have good research experience, you’re on the right track and you’re supported in your teaching. You’re encouraged to apply for external grants and to gain publications and patents,” says Ms Mohammad. “It means you can focus on your study without having to worry about having a job outside the campus.” UAEU also holds an international graduate research conference every year where researchers can network with others and pursue potential opportunities for collaboration outside the campus and the region. 

Ms Mohammad has found the teaching aspect of her time at UAEU so rewarding that she hopes to pursue teaching as a career. “I hope to finish my PhD in the next couple of years and then I want to be involved in teaching, and hopefully here at UAEU. The professors here inspire me because they are really involved in both research and teaching and to bring these two things together would be amazing,” she says. 

Find out more about working at UAEU.

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