x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Women dominate first crop of UAE PhD students

Thirty-eight of the country's most talented young students were chosen from 200 applicants for the programme and 28 of those were women.

AL AIN // The first students to undertake a PhD programme at a federal institution began their four-year journey yesterday at UAE University. Thirty-eight of the country's most talented young students were chosen from 200 applicants for the programme. Most of those selected - 28 - were women. Abdulla al Khanbashi, the university's vice chancellor, said the predominance of females would "guarantee the quality" of the programme and act as a "challenge" to the 10 male PhD candidates.

The university had planned to accept only 20 candidates, but so many qualified students applied that it decided to nearly double the number. The students, from a range of countries including the UAE, India, Bangladesh, Syria and Morocco, will study in four departments: engineering, information technology, medicine and science. Many of the students have linked their research to a developing field in the country, including shark ecology in the Gulf and studies into diseases such as diabetes.

Hazem Bakri al Nasr, 28, will focus on the UAE's water shortage and climate change. "The UAE in particular has limited water resources and when the country's developing at such a fast pace and the population is growing so quickly, it places higher demands on the country's water," Mr al Nasr said. "I hope this study will help to manage this problem and look at the impact of climate change." He said it was important to think for the future. "We are part of this world so we have to consider what's going on."

He was surprised not to see more male candidates but said: "It isn't always so easy for people to take this time out. I don't have children yet and we get a very generous allowance but it is not so easy for other men with families to support." All the students have been given scholarships to take part in the programme, part of UAEU's ambition to also become a research centre. They receive free housing, a living allowance and a research grant for the duration of their study.

The provost, Wyatt R Hume, said he hoped the first PhD graduates would complete their schooling in two years. Dalal Matar Shamisi, 25, is one of the students who was allowed to enter the programme after completing only an undergraduate degree. With a two-year-old daughter, the young mother from Al Ain said earning a PhD would be a challenge but expressed confidence she could do it with the support of her husband and family.

She is doing the first research on the petroleum geology of the UAE. She had an opportunity to study in the US, but she said it was important to put her knowledge to use at home. "Nobody has studied this here yet," she said. "They are depending on geophysics but in doing this they are only studying the surface." Indian-born Jincy Merin Isaac, 23, is studying autoimmune diseases. She said the history of the problem in her family motivated her to go deeper into the subject.

Laila al Rais, from Dubai, and Maitha Mohamed bin Dalmouk, from Sharjah, are studying architectural engineering, focusing on the growing demand for environmentally friendly buildings. "It's a big issue, especially with all the changes to building regulations," said Ms al Rais, 30. "This is the future in the UAE and everything's changing. There are still very few of us specialised in this field."

The students must give seminars in their departments as well as submit research for publication in reputable journals during their study. They must also maintain a grade of B or above. "Some people will find it hard and some will drop out," said Dr Hume, "but this is a great step for us and the country as a whole. It's the first time this has been done here. We are very proud." UAEU recently was ranked as the 374th best university in the world.

Later this year, UAEU hopes to accept PhD candidates in the fields of humanities and social science. @Email:mswan@thenational.ae