The wealth of knowledge students gain during their time at university is unique and crucial. One essential aspect of the learning process is the ability to make mistakes and derive valuable lessons from them. Who better to ask for advice on how to avoid some of these mistakes in university than alumni? The Daily Q reached out to alumni from across EC universities to get some insights and advice on how to maximize your undergrad years.
Shahnawaz Zali Imran
Shahnawaz Zali Imran graduated from Northwestern University in Qatar in 2016. He received a degree in Media Industries and Technology and describes himself as, at heart, “a storyteller.” After being nominated for a Student Academy Award for his documentary film, 100 Steps, in 2016 and being listed under Forbes 30 under 30 in Asia in 2017, Imran began working for Qatar Foundation as a Senior Creative Media Specialist.
In his freshman year, Imran aimed to receive the QF scholarship but was not selected for it. Believing his chances of getting a scholarship in the upcoming year to be slim, Imran realized that, since there was no point in playing it safe. To him, that was the time to explore and take risks. He began to take courses that would challenge him despite the fact that they were tougher and could lower his GPA. “You’re spending so much money [on university education], you might as well take the courses which actually benefit you,” said Imran. “Don’t take courses because they’re an easy A or the schedule works for you, take them because you want to, and they’ll benefit you,” he added.
However, Imran carried one regret with him. He realized too late that establishing connections and networking with your alumni was extremely important. In hindsight, and by becoming an alumnus himself, Imran discovered there was little reason for alumni to refuse to meet with a current student. He believed that such an interaction could only produce more opportunities in the future. “In all honesty, it doesn’t matter what you have in your CV,” Imran admitted, “What matters is how many people you know.”
As someone in the creative field, Imran had one piece of advice which had benefited him greatly during his years as a student. He stated that students were bound to face adversity when pitching their ideas out to professors and editors but, ultimately, the best course of action is to have faith in one’s own vision. “The one thing I have always said to everyone I have met after graduating is…if 99 percent of people don’t believe in your idea but there is a 1 percent who does, go with that 1 percent. When you go with that 1 percent at least your idea has 99 percent of you in it,” he said.
Ameena Al-Haroon, a Qatari national, graduated in 2015 from Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar. Having received a degree in Business Administration from CMU-Q, Al-Haroon went on to complete a Master of Arts in Audiovisual Translations (MAAT) from Hamad Bin Khalifa University’s College of Humanities & Social Sciences in 2017. Al-Haroon previously co-authored and published a paper with her professor from the College of Humanities & Social Sciences in HBKU, Rashid Yahiaouion, on the cultural elements of dubbing television advertisements in the Arab World. She is currently working as a Governance Officer at the Board Management Office in QF.
As a student, Al-Haroon regretted not giving much attention to job opportunities and internships that were available on campus. As a result, she felt that she missed out on opportunities like working as a researcher and an admissions assistant. These jobs would have helped boost her CV by making her a well-rounded individual with more work experience.
Despite her regrets, Al-Haroon pursued other opportunities that allowed her to step out of her comfort zone. She applied for international trips and participated in CMU-Q’s exchange program with their main campus. “This experience has taught me how to be independent while managing my time as a student,” said Al-Haroon. Al-Haroon admitted that this was something many graduating students struggled to get accustomed to as they strived to detach themselves from habits of codependency at new workplaces.
Sreehitha Saini graduated in 2018 from Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar with a bachelor’s degree in Fashion Design. After graduating, she went on to launch her own clothing brand, Sreehitha Saini.
As a student, Saini struggled to balance her academics with her extracurriculars and often prioritized the former in favor of the latter. In hindsight, Saini admitted that she wished she had made more time for herself and explored avenues, which she genuinely enjoyed. “Now that I am working,” Saini said, “I find myself really looking for things to do which I would genuinely enjoy doing. I wish I tried to explore this part of my life while I was still a student because [Education City] provides you with tons of opportunities to find your true passion.”
Saini advised that students should be fearless in order to succeed. Moreover, Saini instructed that one should start taking action and pursuing their passion as soon as possible. If students keep delaying their passion project or business venture until they believed they had gathered enough experience, it would never come to fruition. “Understand that starting the business and delving deep into it is part of the experience,” said Saini.
Omar Atout, who graduated from Texas A&M University at Qatar in 2019, received a bachelor’s degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering. Atout is presently employed as a part-time worker at the Engineering Enrichment Program at his alma mater. He works on researching and developing applications for reconstruction surgeries.
Upon entering TAMU-Q, Atout made the mistake of believing that university life was similar to high school. “I came in thinking university is just like high-school and with minimal effort, I’m going to be fine,” said Atout. “Apparently not.” He realized how demanding his education had become. Due to his misperception of what university is like, Atout felt that he could have utilized opportunities such as the exchange program with TAMU-Q’s home campus to form connections and expand his social circle.
Atout advised that students should dedicate as much time as possible to their education because that effort is never wasted. “I slacked off in one course, only one, and that ended up delaying my graduation,” said Atout. “So always push yourself but also take care of your mental health, because you always come first.”
Noora Al-Hedfa is a GU-Q alum who graduated in 2019 majoring in International Politics. Presently, Al-Hedfa is a member of the steering committee of the Qatari Youth Delegation. Al-Hedfa has also dedicated herself to the sustainability project, called Park and Plant. The initiative was established by QF and described as “designed to make Education City a greener space and turn it into a more pedestrian-friendly environment – as well as creating Doha’s first forest.”
During her time as a student, Al-Hedfa regretted not doing more research about her field as she only realized the opportunities she could have benefitted from after graduation. “I am currently studying Spanish and I wish I had done this as a student, instead,” said Al-Hedfa, as she discovered that the language would benefit her career. Al-Hedfa similarly advised that, as a student, one should be a risk-taker rather than play it safe. “If you hear that a professor is too tough, but you think you’ll actually enjoy and learn from the class, take it without any hesitation.”
It was imperative for students to find the right friends during their time in university as these would be the people you formed your core memories and experiences with, according to Al-Hedfa. “I am glad I met everyone I got to know throughout my journey, all my experiences up until now shaped me to be the person I am today,” said Al-Hedfa, “You’ll face joy and disappointment during your days at university, but always learn from these experiences and use them to build and develop yourself.”
The previous version of this article misstated that Shahnawaz Zali Imran won the student academy award. He was only nominated for the award in 2016.