Dr. Mohammed Attia, a researcher in the field of water treatment and material chemistry, is one of the Arab researchers who combined studies in Japan and America after he benefited from scholarships that subsequently opened up great prospects for him.
Muhammad Attia’s journey with his studies culminated recently with his appointment as a leader of a research group at the US Environmental Protection Agency, and he tells it to us and other details about studying in these two countries and how to enroll in universities there. Read also The first is an Arab one … a Jordanian scientist studies the behavior of bacterial samples in space The election of Tunisian Professor Nader Al-Masmoudi to the American Academy of Sciences and Arts A summary of the experience of an Algerian researcher who helped 20 students win scholarships An Egyptian researcher wins the “Physics World” prize for the most important physical detection for the year 2020
- Your first scholarship was for Japan and it came after several failed attempts, how did that happen?
Indeed, the first university scholarship I won was to study in Japan, and it came after several failed attempts. Failure for me is an opportunity to learn from it, and most of the failed attempts were, in my opinion, a major reason for reaching my goals because I learned a lot from them, and I advise students not to give up and stand at the first attempts that may be failed.
- What obstacles did you face in the beginning that might face any university student aspiring to winning a scholarship?
There are many obstacles that face a student looking to study abroad, including lack of self-confidence, lack of competence in writing and preparing application papers, or writing research proposals.
There is also the problem of language; The language of science and scientific research is the English language, and the lack of proficiency in it constitutes a hindrance to the student, in addition to the fact that many of them do not search well for available opportunities, especially in America, whose university system is very different from what it is in Japan.
- How was your experience in Japan?
I had traveled to study in Japan through the Japanese government scholarship called “METEX” (MEXT), which is a prestigious scholarship and one of the best scholarships available for students to study in Japan. I had taken my Masters in 2012 at Tokyo University of Technology and then my PhD at the same university.
The study was in the English language, so the language was not a hindrance for me, but life in Japan outside the boundaries of the university needs for the student to have a certain level of Japanese language that can be learned through the educational courses provided by the university for foreign students.
For your information, the Japanese government announces these scholarships through its embassies in various countries of the world, and all students have to do is browse their websites, or browse the websites of Japanese universities that publish university scholarship announcements at certain times.
- Are there a lot of Arab students in Japan?
If we compare the numbers of Arab students in Japan with the numbers of their peers in Europe or America, it can be observed that there are fewer Arab students in Japan, but I can notice that these numbers have increased in recent years, due to the increased awareness of the opportunities available there.
- Are there conditions that must be met by an Arab student to succeed in Japan?
The success of the Arab student – or non-Japanese in general – in Japan, according to my personal opinion, is related to knowledge of a certain level of language (it is not necessary to be an advanced level), and is associated with an understanding and respect for the culture of Japanese society (such as discipline in appointments, maintaining General hygiene, respect for the privacy and beliefs of others), and other rules governing Japanese society.
I stayed in Japan for 5 years, which is a long time for a college student, but it was all amazing and special.
- After the experience of Japan, you moved to America to finish your studies after you won a scholarship and you are now settled there. How did that happen?
After spending 5 years in Japan, I have made sure that I cannot adapt to Japanese society, which is governed by very high disciplinary rules and special norms in the workplace that I could not cope with.
Therefore, in the last year of the Ph.D., I decided to prepare to move to another country in Europe or America to complete the post-doctoral level.
During my studies in general, I have built a strong network of relationships with research professors from all over the world, and here I invite students to form a strong network of relationships, because it will support them in obtaining scholarships.
I had participated in a scientific research team at Clemson University, and upon the end of our assignments, I offered the leader of the research group to join his team, and it was approved.
- Is the study in Japan different from America?
There is a very big difference; Studying in America, unlike Japan, has a free nature and more space to accept mistakes and learn from them, because they are part of the culture of society.
But it must be noted here that the degree of competition in America is unforgiving, and this is what constitutes a strong incentive for students to make their way in the field of scientific research.
It should be noted here that winning a scholarship in America is completely different from what is in place in Japan, because most of the scholarships in this country are by submitting applications directly to research professors, and here the student must have a large network of relations with the world of scientific research in America in order to be To be informed of new grants.
- Why did you choose to stay in America and not Japan?
The ceiling of freedoms in American universities is very high compared to Japanese universities, and with the large number of opportunities available there, I decided to choose America because it corresponds to the nature of my competitive personality.
I arrived in America in the winter of 2017, and I was fortunate to receive great support from my professor at Clemson University.
After achieving initial success and publishing research in my major, I got the opportunity to transfer to the chemistry department at Northwestern University, which is the No. 1 university in America, and one year after my joining the new position, I got a new offer from the US EPA. Which is the most important environmental organization in America and worldwide. I do not think that there is a country other than America in which I could reap the fruits so quickly.
- Between America and Japan .. I had two experiences in Denmark and England, tell us about them?
In Japan, I was always looking for any opportunities to study abroad, and my goal was to learn about new aspects and strengthen my network of relationships, and the first successful attempt was to obtain a grant from my university to travel to London to attend a one-month training in Science Communication.
I was at the end of my first year in MA, and I learned a lot about this field, its importance, and the means of development that were subsequently reflected in my academic field.
The next opportunity was during my PhD, and I also got a scholarship from the university to travel to the University of Copenhagen in Denmark for a period of 6 months during the years 2015 and 2016, and I got to know the professor who hosted me as a visiting researcher during one of the conferences, and we are still in contact and scientific cooperation until today.
It was an exciting experience in Europe, and it allowed me to draw a comparison between studying and working there and knowing the reality in Japanese universities.
In Japan, work and study are sacred; So much so, that there are students and researchers who spend long hours in their laboratories, and there are those who sleep inside them in scenes that leave on visitors to this country impressions that make you feel that you are in a country unlike other countries.
- What specializations would you recommend for new students to study?
As for the specializations close to my specialty, which is water treatment, there are 3 areas for which there is still an increase in demand, and the momentum of research on them continues, and financial support in them is great in various countries of the world.
The first specialization is alternative or renewable energies in America. For example, the government has pledged to completely transform all public transportation, estimated in the tens of millions, to become electrically powered, within a period of less than 10 years.
The second specialization, which is very important, is related to electrical energy conservation technologies such as lithium batteries. This specialty has become very important, and the research in it is much and great.
The third field concerns sustainable polymers of various types and fields of applications. The world is gradually turning very quickly to search for inexpensive alternatives to plastics, with similar properties and costs similar to the polymers currently used, but with greater speed and potential for environmental degradation.
- Tell us about the importance of your field of specialization and its implications for the reality in the Arab countries, which are among the areas where water pollutants are abundant?
My specialty is based on the search for eliminators of emerging pollutants in the water, whether they existed before and were recently discovered after the development of analytical devices, or that have recently leaked due to the excessive use of chemicals in agriculture and industry.
I am currently working on pollutants related to fluorine and carbon, which are two strong pollutants that are difficult to eliminate, so we are working on breaking them down because they cause many physical diseases.
Scientific research on these pollutants in our Arab world is almost non-existent for several reasons. The most important of these is the difficulty in obtaining the supplies and materials that are used in this research.
Water treatment methods in the Arab world are still far behind what is happening in the West, for example the triple treatment method is not present at all, and therefore we are still fighting at the level of primitive pollutants resulting from the decomposition of animal and plant remains, with the exception of some Gulf countries that use some kind of filters that Its cost is very high, and other countries cannot resort to it.
- Water treatment is a very important aspect in the equation to achieve water security. What is the reality of scientific research in this field in our Arab world?
The reality of scientific research in the Arab world is very worrying and sad at the same time, because there are strong scientific research groups in many Arab countries, and I know many of them, for example, in Egypt, in Saudi Arabia, in Tunisia, and in Iraq, but unfortunately they face problems of bringing chemicals that are Used in research.
I am in America, for example, when I ask for materials, they are brought from Canada, and they reach me within two or three days, but in Arab countries it may come to months, in addition to the fact that the prices are exorbitant and are not within the reach of scientific research centers.
In the sense that the problem of scientific research here is not in the weakness of local frameworks, but rather in their lack of scientific research requirements and the absence of facilities to obtain them in a timely manner.
- last word?
My last word is advice that I give to students, in which I invite them to make efforts to learn English because it is the language of science, to form a wide network of relationships within the world of scientific research, and to constantly browse social media sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn because they come with many opportunities and scholarships.