Students make KAUST proud

KAUST attendees at the 2016 MRS Fall Meeting & Exhibit included (from left to right) Jafar Iqbal Khan, Ahmed Mansour, Professor Husam Alshareef, Esma Ugur, Rahim Munir, Guy Olivier Ngongang Ndjawa, Ahmed Balawi and Taesoo Kim.

​In 2010, KAUST Professor of Material Science and Engineering Husam Alshareef petitioned the U.S.-based Materials Research Society (MRS) to start a student chapter at KAUST.

"At the time, MRS did not allow student chapters outside of the U.S., so it took some lobbying to get the chapter approved at the end of 2011. Our chapter was finally established in the spring of 2012 as the first student chapter outside of the U.S.," Alshareef said. Alshareef and Osman Bakr, KAUST associate professor of material science and engineering, stepped up as faculty advisors for the new chapter.

Since 2012, response to the chapter has been "overwhelming, and membership rose very, very quickly," Alshareef noted. The MRS student chapter organizes a variety of events for its members, including seminars, members' gatherings, lecture series and discussion panels, conferences and poster sessions, attendance at yearly MRS meetings abroad and visits to corporate partners such as the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC).

"I was happy the chapter was approved, and I've been proud to advise our students since its establishment," said Alshareef. "It's very important for KAUST to stay engaged with MRS because this is beneficial for our students and our institution."

2016 MRS Fall Meeting & Exhibit

In late November and early December of 2016, members of the KAUST MRS student chapter and a team of fellow KAUST students, faculty and staff attended the 2016 MRS Fall Meeting & Exhibit in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. The team set up a booth at the MRS Career Fair, an important part of the Fall Meeting, to recruit prospective students, faculty members, staff and postdoctoral fellows to the University. KAUST Ph.D. students and faculty members also participated in and gave talks at the event about their research.

The student chapter team was also involved in a critical component of the Fall Meeting, the Student-Organized Events, a three-day series of seminars and workshops covering writing and publishing skills.

The University, the KAUST Solar CenterKAUST Graduate Affairs and MRS co-sponsored the events, with KAUST chapter members Dr. Guy Olivier Ngongang NdjawaRahim MunirMaha AlamoudiSanaa Alshammari and Dr. Ahmed Mansour and Alshareef organizing the seminars and workshops. Mansour is also the lead organizer of the international MRS Student Events Working Group.

Writing and publishing: essential to science and academia

"We were delighted to find that our MRS students decided to organize an academic writing workshop at the 2016 MRS Fall Meeting & Exhibit," said Dr. Faizi Ghodsi, director of development and support in Graduate Affairs. "Improving our students' academic writing is one of our endeavors in Graduate Affairs, and it did not take much persuading by the students to earn our support for their efforts. Because the workshops were recorded, we look forward to later offering these same sessions to our KAUST students on campus."

"Writing and publishing skills are essential to both beginning and advancing your academic career," noted Lorri Smiley, MRS professional services and awards coordinator and liaison to MRS University Chapters. "This fact is very well acknowledged in colleges and universities, but we have come to recognize that students and other scholars rarely receive the guidance needed to help propel them toward the career of their dreams.

"The Student-Organized Events were systematically planned, organized and monitored along the way, and each session went extremely well and had great attendance. The KAUST student chapter's project management skills are second-to-none, and MRS is grateful for their involvement and the support of their faculty advisors. These talented and resourceful students are commended for their time and efforts. It was a pleasure for MRS to work directly with the KAUST team."

Speakers for the Student-Organized Events were Kenneth Graham from the University of Kentucky, who spoke on "Writing Scientific Papers;" Seth Marder from the Georgia Institute of Technology, who spoke on "How to Write Effective Research Proposals and Grants Applications in Science;" Bruce Gnade from The University of Texas at Dallas, who spoke on "How Major Funding Agencies Screen Proposals;" and Melanie Parker from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Global Education & Career Development, who spoke on "Academic Resumes, Cover Letters and CV Writing."

A 'passion for learning and sharing'

Dr. Guy Olivier Ngongang Ndjawa, a member of the KAUST MRS student chapter, attended the 2016 MRS Fall Meeting & Exhibit and helped to organized the conference's Student-Organized Events, a series of workshops and seminars that focused on writing and publishing skills. Photo by Nicholas Demille.

Guy Olivier Ngongang Ndjawa, a 2016 KAUST Ph.D. graduate in material science and engineering and a member of the MRS student chapter since 2013, noted that he was "very pleased by the attendance at our writing and publishing workshops and the way they unfolded. Our workshops I attended both as a learner and an organizer left a lasting impression on me—they were of high quality and gave unique perspectives on writing, and our chapter was acknowledged for our leadership in organizing the events."

Ahmed Mansour, a 2011 KAUST master's degree and a 2016 Ph.D. graduate in materials science and engineering, described the academic writing skills event as "remarkable," noting the audience included "fresh Ph.D. students to laboratory PIs."

Dr. Ahmed Mansour, a member of the KAUST MRS student chapter, attended the 2016 MRS Fall Meeting & Exhibit and helped to organized the conference's Student-Organized Events, a series of workshops and seminars that focused on writing and publishing skills. Photo by Nicholas Demille.

Mansour, a founding member of the KAUST MRS student chapter who served as chapter treasurer from 2012 to 2013 and vice president from 2013 to 2014, said, "I'm very proud of the great success of our events and the huge amount of positive feedback we received from the audience, workshop speakers and MRS personnel. We even received an appreciation letter from MRS President Kristi Anseth and MRS Executive Director Todd Osman."

"We managed to make our Student-Organized Events successful despite our daily Ph.D. work at KAUST, and this signifies our team's passion for learning and sharing," added Rahim Munir, a current Ph.D. student in material science and engineering. Munir became a chapter member in 2012 and served as chapter treasurer from 2013 to 2014.

MRS—a golden opportunity

"Our student chapter in many ways reflects the professionalism of MRS as an organization. As a KAUST MRS member, I've benefitted from important scientific tutorials the chapter has organized, had several opportunities to hone my leadership skills and I've enjoyed working with motivated people who seize any opportunity to make an impact," said Ngongang Ndjawa.

Rahim Munir, a KAUST Ph.D. student and a member of the KAUST MRS student chapter, attended the 2016 MRS Fall Meeting & Exhibit and helped to organized the conference's Student-Organized Events, a series of workshops and seminars that focused on writing and publishing skills. Photo by Nicholas Demille.

"Completing your Ph.D. is not only about research, but it should also cater to extracurricular learning," said Munir. "From the chapter, I have discovered how each team member can contribute a fresh outlook and new and innovative ideas. My membership has been a golden opportunity for me, enabling me to meet the 'gurus' of my field and learn so many things outside of the lab.

"In addition, participation in MRS conferences gives students an opportunity to meet professors and students from other parts of the world—this provides alternative viewpoints and discussions about the technology we create in our labs. The 'give and take' of feedback is essential for successful research."

Sharing research and ideas

"My time with the MRS chapter has given me the opportunity to learn how to engage with diverse groups of people and develop skills in communication, leadership, organization and management. More importantly, I also get the chance to meet people and build good friendships," noted Maha Alamoudi, the current MRS student chapter president and a Ph.D. student in material science and engineering. Alamoudi joined MRS in 2013, becoming the chapter secretary in 2014 and president in 2016.

"The 2016 Fall Meeting & Exhibit enabled me to get together with people from a wide range of backgrounds whom I would not otherwise meet, giving me the chance to expand my knowledge, find solutions to problems I face in my research and share my ideas," she continued.

"My experience with the chapter has been an enjoyable and enriching journey, as it has greatly improved my leadership and teamwork and communication skills," added Mansour. "The University's involvement with the international scientific community—such as being part of the MRS conferences and the student chapter—has led to great collaborative experiences from which I've learned a lot."

Jafar Iqbal Khan, a postdoctoral fellow in KAUST Associate Professor Frederic Laquai’s group, stands with his research poster at the 2016 MRS Fall Meeting & Exhibit. Photo by Caitlin Clark.

Jafar Iqbal Khan, a postdoctoral fellow in Associate Professor Frederic Laquai's group and a conference attendee, noted, "The Fall Meeting & Exhibit gave insight into other people's research, with career connections being made. Representing KAUST was also important, as the University is a unique place with state-of-the-art facilities used for researchers to establish outstanding research profiles."

Ph.D. student wins poster prize

Not only was Alamoudi part of the MRS student chapter at the event, but she also won a best poster award at the conference for her poster entitled "Photophysical Processes in Polymer:Non-fullerene Small Molecule Acceptor Bulk Heterojunctions for Organic Solar Cells."

"This was the first time I had a poster presentation at an international conference, so it was very special for me to win the award, as it came quite unexpectedly," she said. "The recognition of my work provides me with a lot of motivation for the remainder of my Ph.D. studies and gives me confidence for my ongoing research projects."

Frederic Laquai, Alamoudi's Ph.D. supervisor and a fellow participant in the conference, stated, "Maha's award is a great motivation for her and for our researchers to intensify the efforts towards developing a more precise picture of the physics behind energy conversion in novel photovoltaic materials."


Ahmed Balawi, a Ph.D. student in the University’s Solar Center and a former KAUST VSRP intern, spoke about his VSRP experience to visitors at the KAUST booth at the 2016 MRS Fall Meeting & Exhibit in Boston, Massachusetts. Photo courtesy of Ahmed Balawi.

Ahmed Balawi, a current KAUST Ph.D. student in the University's Solar Center and a conference attendee, acted as an ambassador for the University's Visiting Student Research Program (VSRP) at the KAUST booth, speaking to interested students about both the VSRP program and the University's Ph.D. program.

Balawi came to KAUST as a VSRP intern in February of 2015 and stayed for six months under the supervision of Associate Professor Aram Amassian, working on optimizing chemically and photo-stable hole transport layers for organic solar cells. After completing his VSRP internship, he immediately began his Ph.D. studies in Frederic Laquai's group.

VSRP attracts visiting research interns from all over the world to the University to experience the unique research environment KAUST offers, recruiting highly motivated students in their baccalaureate or post-baccalaureate studies to carry out research with KAUST faculty members in specific research areas for three to six months.

"Towards the end of my master's degree at the University of Toronto, I attended a presentation about the VSRP program. Because I completed my bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM) in 2013, I already knew about KAUST, and I thought VSRP would be a good opportunity to learn how to fabricate solar photovoltaic devices at the University," Balawi said. His current Ph.D. work focuses on charge generation and charge recombination in organic solar cells using several unique ultrafast spectroscopy techniques.

"VSRP is a great way to introduce young researchers to KAUST and get them to visit and explore the possibility of research here," he noted. "Many attendees came to the KAUST booth to ask about master's degree and Ph.D. programs, although some weren't sure about making a commitment to joining. When I explained about VSRP—and KAUST giving us the opportunity to use high-tech facilities under the supervision of PIs who share their passion for finding answers to scientific questions—this grabbed their interest."

A successful event

"The University's representation at the 2016 MRS Fall Meeting & Exhibit and the Student-Organized Events were essential to the success of our institution," noted Alshareef. "I was proud of our student chapter for putting together a successful symposium. Although we had some top-notch speakers at the events, our students were really the ones who stood out to me—they were outgoing and sociable and made KAUST proud."

To learn more about the KAUST MRS student chapter, visit or email

To learn more about VSRP, visit