"Home can be anywhere."

Assistant Professor of Computer Science Azza Abouzied explains why she has a special emotional connection to the United Arab Emirates.

Born in Bahrain to Egyptian parents, Assistant Professor of Computer Science Azza Abouzied explains why she has a special emotional connection to the United Arab Emirates. “I grew up in Dubai and I still have family here,” she said. In fact, it was Abouzied’s mother who told her about NYU Abu Dhabi, hoping that her daughter would be closer after being abroad for so many years.

Abouzied was still finishing up her PhD at Yale University when she first heard about NYUAD. All at once in love with NYUAD’s vision of a joint research and liberal arts university and scared of the newness of the establishment, Abouzied’s advisor suggested she speak with NYU Professor of Computer Science Dennis Shasha whom they knew within the research community. “I sent him an email out of the blue… and he responded immediately,” Abouzied said. It was not long before Abouzied packed up her life in the US and left for the desert.

“Is this the right move for my career?”

Back in 2013, the university was at its infancy — it’s first graduating class wasn’t going to  take place until the following year. Doubts like, “Is this the right move for my career?” pop up every so often. But it was a risk Abouzied was willing to take if the end result meant creating a top tier research university in the region. 

I was going to be the third person in the computer science program.

Not only that, Abouzied was also building a laboratory for her field of interest — The Human-Data Interaction Lab (HuDa). Setting up a new lab and getting recognition within the community might be a challenge, but Abouzied saw it as an opportunity to explore uncharted waters. 

Abouzied knows about the male and female disparity in the STEM field — she was one of two women in her computer science class during her undergraduate years in Canada. But at NYUAD, Abouzied never felt out of place. “I felt very well respected from the beginning,” Abouzied said.

Independent Research and Collaborative Opportunities

Abouzied appreciates the ability and autonomy to do independent research in areas she cares about and being able to collaborate with students on their projects.

Her latest research work is just that — and something very relevant in the current climate. The HuDa lab is working on a tool that could help policymakers assess their options to combat a pandemic. The idea started out as a Capstone project before the emergence of COVID-19 when a student wanted to work on helping government health organizations make informed decisions and implement effective intervention strategies in case of an outbreak of a widespread disease. 

Read more: A Student's Capstone Project That Could Inform Government Policy on Coronavirus.

Using the flu as an assumed widespread disease, the student began looking at data driven decision making to come up with an algorithm between various interventions and their cost effectiveness. 

When March 2020 came along, Abouzied thought, “Okay, this project is even more pressing and more important than ever.” With a backbone structure already in place, that research was given a new lease of life with the now graduated student becoming a research assistant to the project.

Read more: Another Tool in the Shed Against COVID-19

Family Life in the UAE

Transitioning as a single woman who first joined the University to now being a mother of two, Abouzied is very much at home raising her children in Abu Dhabi. Her personal childhood years in the UAE gave her the confidence she needed to know that her children are in a safe country with an excellent education system. 

Having lived in Bahrain, the UAE, Canada, and the US, Abouzied is glad to have her children exposed to the global expat community in the UAE. 

The UAE is home to more than 200 nationalities. Stock image.

With an ever increasing collaborative world, Abouzied believes it’s important for her children to be comfortable with diversity from a young age. There is a message Abouzied wants her children to understand. “Home can be anywhere.”