Wegood Awad understands that getting a PhD is a long-term commitment with a heavy demand on research, but she wants her degree to go beyond the lab.
Awad, an NYU Abu Dhabi Gobal PhD Fellow in Chemistry knows that achieving that won’t be easy.
As a graduate student council member, Awad is keen on working on improving the overall graduate student experience. Working with the council and the graduate and postdoctoral affairs office, she helps organize day trips to see the UAE and all it has to offer. Awad also facilitated a series of seminars to increase mental health awareness, including dialogues with experts on positive psychology, and how COVID-19 stress can affect productivity and learning how to redefine expectations.
“Your PhD journey is a marathon and is not a sprint,” Awad said. It’s important to take a night or a weekend off to maintain a balance in one’s mental and physical health.
With a passion for teaching, Awad also taught undergraduate students lab and recitation courses, regularly incentivizing students to take charge of their learnings and finding creative ways to overcome difficulties these students may face during their education.
Awad’s commitment to contribute back to the NYUAD community had won her the Graduate Student Leadership Award 2022, which recognizes graduate students who have positively impacted the campus and wider community.
A Supportive Mentor
All these would not have been possible without a supportive mentor in Professor of Chemistry, Panče Naumov. “He’s very much a believer of being a well rounded individual,” Awad said. If there’s any opportunity for his team to attend a leadership seminar or workshop that is important for professional development, Naumov is always supportive of it. Awad also works closely with senior researchers and collaborators that are essential to her work. "I’m very grateful for the people I work day to day with,” Awad added.
Naumov holds bi-weekly meetings with his lab to discuss research progress and challenges. Weekly, the group also meets up to keep abreast with current research happenings, coordinate technical support, and work on their public speaking skills by presenting papers.
Awad said that Naumov is able to provide that fine balance of empowering his graduate students with the independence needed to lead their projects, while also welcoming any students who knock at his door when faced with a challenge.
Studying the Marri Nut
As part of that exercise, Awad has spent many of those bi-weekly meetings presenting her research, which looks to understand the engineering nature has perfected in protecting fruits and nuts.
Many materials have been created over the years to mimic the properties of fruits and nuts — after all, nature has the best design to protect their embryos with a tough outer shell to protect them from predators and potential harsh environments.
Awad’s research examined how the marri nut compares in strength compared to other well-studied nuts such as macadamia, walnut, and pistachio. Using 3D printing technologies, CT scans and modeling software to study the properties of the marri nut, she is able to identify the factors contributing to its strength. The team is now working on the final stages of designing a material that is lightweight and impact-resistant.
During the course of her PhD, Awad finds it important to have an open mindset and accept the possibility that a project can take a different direction over time. Awad is very passionate about her research work and knows that her contributions matter. “Your work, no matter how insignificant you think it may be, is a building block for other researchers to continuing the research work,” Awad said.