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Celebrating the KAUST journey

KAUST President Jean-Lou Chameau speaks to the audience of faculty, staff and new and returning students at Convocation on August 23. Photo by Helmy Al Sagaff.

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Faculty and student speakers Jasmeen Merzaban, assistant professor of bioscience, and Itsikiantsoa Randrianantenaina, a Ph.D. student from the University’s Communication Theory Lab, welcomed over 200 new master’s degree and Ph.D. students from 39 countries to the University’s seventh annual Convocation ceremony held on August 23. The event capped off two weeks of orientation activities held on campus for the new students.

Although Merzaban and Randrianantenaina are at different stages in their scientific careers, the two speakers emphasized their journeys have been full of taking plenty of chances, going outside their comfort zones and learning along the way—all things they urged the new students to do during their time at KAUST.

A different path

“I wasn’t born wanting to be a scientific researcher,” said Merzaban, who aimed to become a medical doctor. Instead, life took a different turn for her, and she found it necessary to “identify another window of opportunity for me,” she said. A summer spent working in a lab at the University of British Columbia during her undergraduate degree paved the way to her completing her Ph.D. studies in the same lab.

“Looking back now, I can clearly see that it is when things didn’t work out, I was compelled to think more creatively and critically,” she said.

“While medical research wasn’t what I had envisioned for myself, in retrospect, our desires are not necessarily achieved through the most predictable path. Sometimes we just have to trust the journey…and learn to not be afraid of failure. It is the dose of fear that keeps us humble and cautious while the bursts of excitement recharge our curiosity, confidence and commitment to our journeys.”

Convocation 2016
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‘Big steps’ to seek knowledge

Randrianantenaina told the students her dream at 5 years old was to “study until there was nothing left to study anymore,” leading her to complete her undergraduate degree in engineering from the Institut National des Postes et Télécommunications (INPT) in Rabat, Morocco. After an internship at KAUST, she decided to stay on for her master’s and Ph.D. degrees at the University.

“I never imagined studying in Saudi Arabia, but when I came to KAUST for my internship, I was amazed” by the work environment and the friendly professors, she said. But Randrianantenaina was also overwhelmed during her first few days at the University, arriving in “a whole new place, a whole new world. I took a big step and left my family to seek knowledge,” she added.

Randrianantenaina then realized she should be excited and proud of herself for deciding to continue her studies at KAUST, because she had become part of a “special journey. At KAUST, you get to work and become friends with people from all around the world, exchange ideas and see things from different perspectives. KAUST gives me an excellent academic education and has educated me as a person by helping me to discover more about myself and others,” she said.

A special journey

“You are now part of this special journey, and being in KAUST is now part of your story,” Randrianantenaina told the new students. “You have the power to write your story every day you spend here, so make sure it is a great one. Make every moment count and make the most of the resources KAUST offers you. Share with others what you have…your ideas, your talents, and also your smile.”

Merzaban summed up these thoughts, adding, “Seize the opportunities [at KAUST] before you, have faith in and value yourselves, and remember there is no greater aim than the pursuit of knowledge. Trust the journey, wherever it may lead.”

By Caitlin Clark, KAUST News

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