When Tina Skorjanc was applying for graduate school after college, she applied all over the world including Canada, Singapore, and Germany. Despite being accepted to a few schools, she had trouble finding one that checks off some of her criterias.
“Being from NYUAD, I am used to the diverse student body. I just couldn’t see myself anywhere that lacks diversity,” said Skorjanc, adding that one of the programs she was accepted into was quite homogeneous in terms of their student body.
Prioritizing diversity in the community and also a school that provides supportive resources and a competitive package that covers tuition and housing costs, the Slovenian decided to complete her PhD at NYUAD through the Global PhD Student Fellowship in Chemistry program.
Resources to Support Research Work
Speaking on the resources available at NYUAD, Skorjanc shared that not many students knew of the Core Technology Platform (CTP) team at NYUAD. CTP consists of a group of scientists who not only have deep experience in particular fields and scientific instruments, but are available to train PhD students on using them, as well as help with planning different experiments using various techniques.
For example, when Skorjanc started using an electron microscope, a specialist from CTP was able to guide her on the full potential of the instrument. and also advise her on the most suitable approach to achieving what Skorjanc wanted in her experiments. “They are really a terrific resource here... and they work in different fields from materials characterization, spectroscopy, electron microscopy, to DNA sequencing,” Skorjanc explained.
Besides CTP, there are also resources to help graduate students with their scientific writing. NYUAD also has a lecturer in STEM writing whom they can reach out to. Adjunct lecturer of writing Philip Rodenbough supports graduate students with their thesis and manual scripts. Winning the Pregl Award for outstanding doctoral dissertation, Skorjanc was thankful for the support she had received. “(Philip) was very helpful in improving my writing and I’m very thankful for his help with my dissertation,” she said.
Over the years, Skorjanc also benefited from various grants and fellowship opportunities available from the Abu Dhabi campus as well as in the New York campus. She found this information highlighted through graduate e-newsletters and emails from various arms of NYUAD and other campuses.
The Trabolsi Research Group
Another factor that made Skorjanc confident about her decision to join NYUAD was her supervisor, Associate Professor of Chemistry Ali Trabolsi. Familiar with Professor Trabolsi from her undergraduate years, Skorjanc knows of his lab and the research they do. Importantly, the synergy was great between them and she stressed the benefit of being on the same page with their academic mentors.
As a graduate student, you know the importance of your supervisor as it defines your work and free time.
Working in the field of material science, Skorjanc experimented mostly with porous materials and synthesized polymers. She uses different scientific equipment, like electron microscopy, thermal analysis, or X-ray diffraction to differentiate these new polymers and its potential uses. A majority of Skorjanc’s projects address environmental issues like removing pollutants from water sources.
Harmful pollutants are often disposed into the wastewaters. With human life so intricately tied to water, it’s important to reduce the exposure to these harmful pollutants. A goal in the research lab was to adsorb these toxic compounds onto the synthesized polymer material and leave clean water behind.
“Sometimes we make polymers to become a general adsorbent, and other times, we try to make specific adsorbents to remove specific chemicals such as bromate from water,” Skorjanc explained.
Skorjanc was also able to steer towards a slightly different research direction and work on projects in the biomedical field to test the effectiveness of certain drug delivery systems to cancerous and non-cancerous cells.
Albeit a very different project, Skorjanc was appreciative of the capacity to take on something outside her field. “I got to learn techniques that I otherwise would probably never have learned,” she said.
While the technical support, writing guidance, various opportunities for funding and progression are huge boons to why she chose to pursue her PhD at NYUAD, the good faculty mentorship support seal the deal.
“There are many great things about Ali,” Skorjanc said. “He is very supportive of pretty much everything I’ve ever suggested, be it a conference I’d like to attend or approval of travel grants. Whenever I was stuck with my research work, his door was always open despite his busy schedule,” she added.