It’s 2008. Dr Shahab Abdulla looks out of the plane window; the Arabian desert extends into the horizon below and a quiet goodbye sails through his head. He isn’t sure how he’s going to cope studying in a foreign country. All he knows is that he's about to embark on one of the greatest journeys of his lifetime – his first stop, the University of Southern Queensland.
'English is not my first language. So, when I came across to Australia to undertake my PhD research in Biomedical Engineering, the toughest challenge for me was overcoming the language barrier. Sometimes your mind is brimming with knowledge, but you’re not able to fully participate because of the communication hurdles.'
Despite the language barrier, Shahab says he feels the university truly invested in his educational experience, and he’s grateful to have received significant support in his English language course. Little did he realise that studying at USQ would be the start of a new chapter in his career.
'I was so glad I chose to study at the University of Southern Queensland. Within the first three to six months, I had learned a great deal from staff, and I felt more confident in myself each day. As many of my classmates also had a Middle Eastern background, I used the same teaching strategies I’d found helpful to help those who were struggling. I continued to help others learn English even after finishing my course.'
In 2012, Shahab graduated with his PhD in Biomedical Engineering. He was ecstatic when, noticing his passion for helping his classmates, the college approached him to join their teaching team in the Employee Assistant Program (EAP).
'I’ve come full circle – I started my journey as a student, and now, I’m supporting my students!'
Confidence and competence
Today, twelve years after joining the University of Southern Queensland, Dr Shahab Abdulla says his greatest joy is watching his students become more confident in their abilities, and in themselves.
'I love my work and my team. At the end of each semester, it is a wonderful feeling reading through the feedback and comments from my students.'
Shahab leads the Advanced Data Analytics Modelling Research Simulation Group, and is supervising over ten PhD students to analyse, model and control the depth of anaesthesia - his area of expertise. He says USQ has played a pivotal role in engaging and providing support to non-English speaking students.
'I always aim to connect my students with the staff at USQ because the support is phenomenal. If one of my PhD students tries to write something - whether it be a paragraph or thesis, and they are struggling, they know they can approach either me or my colleagues. The quality of English I’m seeing from my students in their publications is improving day by day!'
Maintaining connection from afar
When coronavirus became more prevalent in Queensland, many of Shahab’s international students had to return to their home countries and engage in remote learning.
'When I first began online teaching, it was very difficult - particularly as some students don’t have access to a reliable internet connection where they live. But USQ has continued to make learning possible; we’ve been able to provide everyone the relevant resources.'
Of course, the time difference proves a challenge as well. However, true to his nature, Shahab is there for his students at any hour.
'I have a few students in Nepal, so there is a significant time difference – about five hours. Sometimes these students have online tests at 1am. I’ll wake up at that time to ensure they have everything they need. I do this because I love my job, and I want to ensure the best success for my students.'
Through his work, Shahab hopes to inspire his students to embrace all the challenges that come with being an international student, so they can achieve their goals.
Thank you Shahab, for your boundless commitment to your students and to your team.