GS: Where are you from?
FA: I’m from Iraq, Baghdad.
GS: What degree did you/will you receive and when?
FA: I received a medical degree from the College of Medicine – Baghdad University in 2001. I expect to graduate from UAB with my MPH in 2011.
GS: What is your research?
FA: I work as a volunteer in meta-analysis obesity research. I’m currently researching the mental health of Iraqi women in conflict areas. The results may reform regulations and policies of the Iraqi health system and direct the resources and efforts to the proper venues.
GS: Why did you choose UAB for your graduate studies?
FA: UAB’s excellent reputation as well as the diverse academic program provided by the School of Public Health that satisfied my research interests.
GS: Have you received any awards or honors?
FA: I was selected as a Fulbright scholar for 2009. It was a great honor to represent my country and to have the chance to pursue graduate study in the U.S. I also had the running position at the “From lab to market” conference held in Cambridge, Massachusetts last May. The theme of the conference was to address innovative interventions that can improve developing countries’ capabilities to face their challenges.
GS: What has been your most rewarding experience at UAB?
FA: Involvement in voluntary work has been my most rewarding experience. This has involved working in community gardens to homeless drives and other activities arranged by UAB or school of public health. I learned that the community’s primary responsibility should be for the common good.
GS: Who is your greatest influence here at UAB and why?
FA: My academic advisors and professors helped me to acclimatize with the new academic environment. They assisted me to identify my future objectives and to enhance my learning experience on both theoretical and practical aspects.
GS: What is your motivation in your academics/research?
FA: My main concerns were how to translate my knowledge into relevant outcomes. I was inspired by the School of Public Health’s inclusive environment that provided students with a series of real world experience, unique class activities, seminars and open discussions with faculty members. Now, I feel that I’m on the right track, full of passion my research and work.
GS: What are your plans after graduating and for the future?
FA: Actually I can’t wait to finish my degree so I can take my part in helping my country. Iraq has suffered from a series of wars that have torn the country. My efforts will be directed toward health system reform and enhancement and participation in the rebuilding process with my fellow citizens.
GS: Is there anything else you would like to say?
FA: Studying at UAB has expanded my horizon. Thanks to all professors, colleagues and friends who supported me. The whole experience has made me feel like a new person that is well equipped to face the future, I know the road will be tough, but challenge is a part of life. I would also like to thank my parents who enlighten my life path and my wife who stood with me through the hardest times.
Firas’s advice for other graduate students:
“First say to yourself what you would be; then do what you have to do.” Epictetus
Life is too short to waste. We are here at this moment at this place for a reason. Our ultimate goals and dreams have to contribute to the common good of humanity and to alleviate the suffering of mankind.