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Graduate Studies

Kholoud Abousalem

Kholoud Abousalem received the 2023 Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship. Kholoud is completing her PhD in Chemical Engineering, under supervisor Drew Higgins.

About being a Vanier Scholar

What does receiving a Vanier Scholarship mean to you?

I am honoured to have received this award. Personally, this award proves that resilience and perseverance are the main keys to success.

Receiving the Vanier Scholarship holds a profound significance that is difficult to put into words. To me, it represents a recognition of my leadership abilities, academic achievements, and all of my hard work throughout the past years. It is a big responsibility; a Vanier Scholar prioritizes goals that extend beyond themselves and leaves a lasting impact. It motivates me to keep pushing myself to be a good example for my peers and future graduate students.

I would also like to add that being a female in engineering, as well as an international student, it is not easy to find the confidence to apply for such a prestigious scholarship. However, I urge my fellow students, especially those who belong to minority groups, to always believe in themselves and their abilities to achieve what they desire if they put in the work.

Tell us about your Vanier research.

My research project, developed in partnership with TotalEnergies, focuses on developing and implementing advanced state-of-the-art in-situ transmission electron microscopy (TEM) technique for characterizing electrochemical carbon dioxide (CO2) conversion technology. This technology is a potential disruptive technology for a circular carbon economy, including decarbonization of chemical manufacturing, valorization of carbon emissions, and storage of renewable energy in fuels. A major challenge, however, includes low CO2 conversion and poor selectivity leading to costly downstream separations.

This project aims to develop new energy materials to both reduce energy consumption and convert existing atmospheric CO2 to energy-rich fuels. The overarching goal of this project is the valorization of the results in the form of improved carbon capture and conversion technologies and processes, enabling Canada to capitalize on rapidly expanding carbon utilization and sustainable energy markets. This in turn can directly combat climate change to meet Canada’s 2030 and 2050 climate commitments.

About graduate student life

What inspired you to pursue a postgraduate degree?

The realization that despite the remaining obstacles that women in science and engineering face, it is no longer an exception. Though STEM disciplines remain male-dominant, that has not dampened my hopes to engage in the field of science. One of my main sources of motivation has been my desire to ensure that women have options and offer unique perspectives, regardless of the hurdles in their way.

Having always been the top of my class throughout my undergraduate studies with an Honours BSc, I wanted to take one step further, and graduate school was the way to do so. My academic achievements opened doors for me as I was granted a graduate full-tuition university scholarship by the American University in Cairo (AUC) to pursue an MSc in nanotechnology which foreshadowed my academic records. During my Masters studies, I got the chance to join the research group of Dr. Nageh Allam. I am extremely grateful to Dr. Allam for teaching me how to be a good researcher and giving me the opportunity to explore, make mistakes, and learn from them.

After gaining experience in different fields, I was still eager to explore different sides of chemical engineering research. I was accepted to join Dr. Drew Higgins’ research group in chemical engineering. I consider myself lucky to have a supportive supervisor who creates a nurturing environment for my personal and academic growth.

Why did you choose to study at McMaster?

I chose to study at McMaster because of several interdisciplinary programs and research-intensive contributions, providing me with more opportunities to engage in cutting-edge research projects. I respect the fact that McMaster celebrates diversity in its research field and its community. In addition, research scholars at McMaster are committed to understanding and solving the most pressing global challenges of our times.

What do you love most about your graduate program?

The thing that I love most is the sense of community–something I deeply cherish. The warm and friendly environment within my program has made my graduate journey more enjoyable and memorable. The opportunity to engage with talented colleagues with different research backgrounds and the exchange of ideas and research interests has been an enriching experience for me.

The mentorship and guidance provided by faculty members has inspired me to push the boundaries of my own knowledge. Taking this chance, I want to give a shout-out to the chemical engineering chair, Dr. Carlos Filipe, who supported my application and provided guidance.

I also admire that the department as a whole encourages collaboration and interdisciplinary interactions by offering frequent seminars, workshops, and social events of great importance. I consider myself fortunate to be part of such a welcoming and inclusive department.

What is your favourite thing about McMaster and the broader Hamilton community?

One of my favourite things about McMaster is the stunning natural surroundings around campus. As an outdoorsy person, I fell in love with the breathtaking Cootes trails behind campus and waterfront areas. As graduate students, we understand that we need more than a great campus–McMaster gives us a chance to engage in different student clubs and organizations, including sports, social activism, and much more.

Beyond the campus, living in Hamilton offers abundant natural beauty. Hamilton has great waterfront destinations that are the best spots for outdoor fun and getting active. Personally, the wonderful scenery of the waterfront along Lake Ontario creates a serene and calming environment which I enjoy the most.

When you’re not busy being a graduate student, how do you like to spend your free time?

Aside from academia, I like to engage in a variety of activities that allow me to express myself. Art has been my lifelong passion, a way of life. I enjoy doing embroidery designs and handmade crafts as my mind starts to buzz with many artistic ideas. One of my favourite hobbies is Arabic Calligraphy artwork–it intertwines the beauty of the Arabic language with the artistry of beautiful lettering, bringing me a sense of calm and fulfillment. I also find joy in the simple act of walking and connecting with natural places which can be seen as an important spiritual practice.

Beyond Grad School

What do you see as the next step in your life journey?

I have a strong desire to mentor and inspire the next generation of young scientists and engineers. I believe in the power of education and the importance of empowering others, whether it be through teaching, mentoring, or engaging in collaborative research projects.

As much as I enjoy research, I love the practical nature of chemical engineering and one of my long-term goals is to work as a research scientist in the industry for technical skill development, eventually aiding in the progression of developing countries like my home country Egypt.

On a personal level, I also intend to continue my own growth and development. I believe in the value of lifelong learning and aim to broaden my knowledge beyond my specific field of expertise.