NU-Q student panel discusses research grants and opportunities

Rahma El-Deeb, Staff reporter

Photo by: Rahma El-Deeb

Northwestern University in Qatar students discussed their experiences conducting research and the opportunities offered by Qatar Foundation and NU-Q’s research office in a panel on Sunday.

Sara Al-Ansari, a journalism junior, described her experience working on an Undergraduate Research Experience Program project, a faculty-led process in which undergrads are recruited as key research assistants. The project was funded by the Qatar National Research Fund and looked at Science Majlis events in the country. Sarhan Khan, a communication senior, also worked on a UREP project, investigating Qatar’s foreign aid and its donation patterns to countries in need. UREP grant amounts vary depending on the number of faculty and students involved in a project.

Ammar Younas, Zaki Hussain and Neha Rashid, communication and journalism seniors, spoke about the Summer Undergraduate Research Grant they received from NU-Q. The three students were awarded US $3,500 to research bonded labor in Pakistan; they created a short documentary and long feature article on the topic.

The last panelist, Huda Barakat, discussed the opportunities provided by NU-Q’s Undergraduate Language Grant, which she used to take Italian language courses in Rome, through a grant sum of US $5,000.

Key advantages of participating in a UREP grant, as described by the panelists, is the support students receive from faculty and being able to present the work at international conferences. Al-Ansari additionally stressed the significant amount of insight she gained from her faculty supervisor Anto Mohsin, an assistant professor in the liberal arts department at NU-Q, and how she was able to develop her skills in field work. Al-Ansari and Mohsin will present their work on Nov. 12 at the Qatar Faculty Forum, an Education City lecture series, and at conferences abroad.

Undergraduate students who hope to participate in a research project must “develop the skill of adaptability when exposed to different environments or ideas that may not resonate with what [they] believe in,” Al-Ansari said.

Khan concurred, adding that UREP proved a conduit of self-discovery and skillset exploration for him. Along with his faculty supervisor, Hasan Mahmud, an assistant professor in the liberal arts department at NU-Q, he will travel to Slovenia this Wednesday to present their research at the 9th Slovenian Social Science Conference. He said that while he had a lot of guidance and support from Mahmud, the experience felt more like a “partnership rather than a hierarchy.”

The SURG program, however, is completely student driven. Younas, Hussain and Rashid completed an independent project which required them to use their academic and professional skills to complement one another. In their case, Rashid, who is also a managing editor at The Daily Q, used her journalism skills, Hussain his documentary filmmaking expertise, and Younas his knowledge of the ins and outs of Pakistan to complete their project.

“You should always go in with a bunch of different ideas so you’re not disheartened when a few of them get rejected,” Rashid said, referring to SURG’s rigorous application process.

Difficulties the team faced, according to Younas, were conflicting journalistic norms in Pakistan. The students said they had to adjust what they learned in class about media ethics to Pakistan’s culture. They plan to publish their work in different news outlets, such as Al Jazeera and VICE, as well as, submit the documentary to film festivals. They also hope to hold local and international screenings of their film during the spring semester.

Speaking about the ULG program, Barakat said beyond learning a new language, the most challenging aspect of her experience was the intimidating process of “[finding] a program that works with your schedule… and preparing for travelling abroad… in a country you may not be familiar with.”

However, she said she felt a sense of pride and accomplishment after completing the program and particularly valued the opportunity to meet new and interesting people during her travels. Barakat intends to further improve her language skills by enrolling in courses in Qatar before initiating a project analyzing Italian media texts.

The panelists all agreed that QF and NU-Q research programs offer students an incredible opportunity to pursue their interests.

“Never in our lives will someone give us a sum of money and tell us we can do whatever we want with it,” Rashid said. “To have the opportunity in your early twenties is really unique.”

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