Beyond the Books: Navigating the PhD Journey Together

June 14, 2024 | Hamilton, ON
Contributed by Natalie Plechinger, Communications Assistant

Information Systems PhD 2024 graduates, Esraa Abdelhalim and Ahmed Mohamadean have more in common than their academic interests. Esraa and Ahmed, who met and married after their master’s studies in Egypt, both chose to continue their academic endeavours at DeGroote. The couple discussed their journey of navigating new beginnings together while working to complete their respective PhDs.

Why did you decide to pursue your PhD, and why DeGroote?

“Attending McMaster has always been a dream of mine,” says Esraa. “One of my supervisors in my home country recommended DeGroote because it has such a strong PhD program. Your supervisor contributes heavily towards your success in the doctoral program at DeGroote. Having Dr. Hassanein and Dr. Head as my co-supervisors has made this journey a life-changing experience.”

Esraa and Ahmed, with their mutual interest in Information Systems, were jointly supervised by Dr. Hassanein.

“My passion for getting a PhD started after completing my master’s degree. I read an article entitled “What it means to be a professor”, and started to think about what I would be able to do with a PhD,” explains Ahmed.

“I didn’t hesitate to choose DeGroote. It’s really one of the strongest research-led universities in Canada, and if you asked me now if I would do this all again, I would say yes.”

What attracted you to Information Systems?

“From the beginning I was always keen on learning about technology. What really interested me about Information Systems was the intersection of people and technology and how they may interplay,” says Ahmed. “Information Systems isn’t purely about technology or sociology. It’s about understanding how people perceive technology and how it will shape us as a society and continue to impact our lives for years to come.”

Ahmed’s research thesis examines blockchain technology, in addition to people’s perceptions of technological trust.

“Learning about technology has always been my passion since I was an undergrad. I pursued a bachelor’s degree in Information Systems and my department at that time envisioned technology as the way of the future, so I had no doubt that I wanted to do my master’s and PhD in this field,” explains Esraa. “I was thrilled about the cutting-edge technology and facilities that McMaster has, like the equipment at MDTRC (McMaster Digital Transformation Research Centre), and felt like this was a great place to do my studies.”

Esraa’s thesis focuses on enabling AI to collaborate with people as social actors, recognizing their concerns, and outlining the potential advantages of this technology. Then she tested an AI model to understand people’s perceptions when collaborating with AI.

You also had a baby while finishing your PhDs, can you tell us about how you balance school and life?

“If you learn how to manage your time, you can be effective in anything you do. You need to be able to perceive the time you have and be realistic with how much time things require,” says Ahmed. “It can be difficult to balance school and family life, so it’s important to remember to take care of your own wellbeing. Doing things that you enjoy, like exercising, which can also help your mental health, are really important and something that every PhD student should consider.”

“We never felt pressured in any way. Our supervisors always encouraged us to prioritize our health, mental wellbeing, and family. Research and balancing other commitments are really a challenge. It’s important to learn some time management skills so you can prioritize your tasks and fill the time that you do have,” explains Esraa.

“Having children comes with more responsibility, but if you have a positive mindset, you will still be able to balance responsibilities given supportive supervisors.”

You are both graduating this spring, how special of a moment will this be for your family? 

“This is a moment to celebrate. We left our country, family, and everything behind — we started from scratch when we came here for this program. With our convocation we’re able to look back and see our transformation over the past six years and all the special moments that happened to us during our PhD,” says Esraa. “It’s also nice for our daughter to see us graduating so she can learn at an early stage of life that education is important and a continuous process.”

“I always tell my students that education is a key part of changing people’s lives. When you decide to pursue some form of education, it dramatically changes your life, not just from an academic perspective, but it shapes who you are as a person,” says Ahmed. “It’s not just a degree, it’s a journey and process that you can enjoy. Having a positive mindset is also important; knowing that when you graduate there will be new places and opportunities waiting for you.”

One thought on "Beyond the Books: Navigating the PhD Journey Together"

  1. phil TAN says:

    to both of you, Ahmed & Esraa!!!

    You both bring pride to yourselves and your parents,
    ALL THE BEST in your future endeavours.

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