Graduate Student Samah Saeed Wins McCluskey Doctoral Thesis Award

Graduate student Samah Saeed won a major award in electronic circuits test community, the E.J. McCluskey Doctoral Thesis Award, in recognition of her outstanding work on her PhD dissertation. She is the first female to win the award, which is granted by the Test Technology Technical Council and was first offered in 2005 to promote most impactful doctoral student work.

As a PhD student, Saeed has spent her graduate career between Abu Dhabi and New York. She completed her coursework in Brooklyn at NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering, and her second year conducting research in Abu Dhabi. Since then she has split time between New York and Abu Dhabi.

She works on enhancing the test process of electronic circuits while ensuring their security. "Test aims at reaching deep inside the circuit to expose defects, while security aims at hiding and protecting secret information of a circuit. We try to find a middle ground," Saeed said.

"We modify the design of circuits to provide more internal access," which allows the researchers to test every part of the design and enhance the test process of the product. This research reduces test costs and improves the quality of testing.

Saeed and her colleagues also play the role of an attacker, and try to anticipate the way a hacker may exploit the test infrastructure. "We propose attacks that show the vulnerabilities of encryption algorithms, for instance, those used in smart cards, using the test infrastructure, and we then propose solutions to prevent these attacks," Saeed said.

The competition for the award progresses in two stages. Participants first square off in three regional competitions. Saeed won the North American regional competition and moved on to the international final where she went head-to-head with students from the University of Pisa, Italy, and the National Institute for Astrophysics, Optics, and Electronics in Mexico.

Saeed received her bachelor of science from Kuwait University in 2008 and her master of science from the same university in 2010. During her master's studies she began working with Ozgur Sinanoglu, associate professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at NYU Abu Dhabi, who became her advisor when she began her PhD. "My advisor helped me a lot over the years," Saeed said. "He taught me that nothing is impossible."

Saeed knew that she always wanted to pursue a PhD, but she wasn’t sure in which field — until she had the opportunity to present a paper at the North Atlantic Test Workshop in 2010. There she won the award for second best student presentation, and her career choice was made.

"NYU Abu Dhabi is extremely active as an educational hub. My colleagues and I were able to attend many conferences and meet people in the field. We also hosted international conferences and workshops, which attracted specialist in the field," Saeed said. "It’s very good to build your own connections and keep yourself up-to-date with recent technologies and proposed techniques in your research area by attending conferences, and that’s one way to get new ideas.

"Being a part of tightly knit research community fosters interdisciplinary interaction which might not be easy in a huge organization."

Saeed successfully defended her dissertation in December 2014, and received her PhD in January 2015. She is currently pursuing career opportunities on the academic job market.