Thursday, September 4, 2014

Dare to Dream: My Fulbright Story

 My passion for science sprouted in me at a very tender age. Since my father is an endocrinologist and my mother is a pharmacist, I can say I was born into the field. As I grew up, my fascination with scientific research matured, owing to the fact that I saw my brother and sister earn their Master’s degrees in dentistry and another brother in cardiology. I was inspired by my family and I decided to pursue a career in pharmacy. This inspiration resulted in my graduation with honors from Cairo University, School of Pharmacy, which is one of the oldest and most prestigious programs in the Middle East. I was eventually appointed to a pharmacist job in Cairo. This early experience was very rewarding. 

However, I soon found myself interested in clinical research and accepted a job as a research assistant in the Egyptian Atomic Energy Authority. In this new position I dealt with the preparation of radiopharmaceuticals and with quality control. This was my first encounter with patient oriented research. Moving to the National Research Center was definitely the very best next step in my research career. In this environment I used and mastered state of the art research tools. Keeping patient and clinical research in mind, I designed a study for my Master’s thesis project which I secured from Cairo University.

All of these successes led me to apply for a Fulbright grant and ensured that I had the opportunity to pursue further studies in the United States. Dramatic changes in my life arose early on in my path to becoming a Fulbright scholar and this gave me the impulse to write about my time in the United States. I found that this blog offered some of the most revealing insights into the benefits that can be derived from participating in the program.

 Although this isn't my first time being in the States, I am viewing my stay here with a Fulbright eye. This privilege has required me to adapt to a life with more independence and the responsibility to be a good representative of the Fulbright Program. I am very proud of the fact that I am doing my Ph.D. in Molecular, Cellular and Biochemical Pharmacology at the University of Cincinnati, ranked third in the U.S. among other medical schools. The local children’s hospital is number one in America in treating cancer and hematology and it is the target for many people from all around the world to study here. These things have also made it a challenge to enter my program because it is multidisciplinary; it requires excellent knowledge of different areas, as if you are taking four majors. Also, the fact that the former chair of the department was an Egyptian Fulbrighter, Dr. Malak Kotb, an acclaimed scientist who embodies collaborative and interdisciplinary research, further raises expectations and the demands of researchers.

I had many privileges in my country and now here I am in the challenge of facing a new life, discovering a new culture, learning how to deal with different types of people, and engaging with this society. I arrived in the U.S. four weeks late after my program started due to visa problems, but I was lucky to get the visa to come here at all! I traveled directly from the airport to the university to find that I missed some exams and assignments and it was really hard to catch up, especially since I had to take ongoing exams with my colleagues while taking other makeup exams alone.

In my first hectic day in school, one professor looked at me and said: it will be hard for you to go on in this course because it is really tough, it is better for you to drop the course.

I didn’t have a social security number or a home for the first month. Still, my desire to represent the Fulbright name and to prove my ability as a good researcher was worth more to me than feeling tired or even complaining about sleep deprivation. Eventually I got an A in the tough first semester course I had been encouraged to drop. Hence, this same professor came to congratulate me as I was one of his top students and he said, “No wonder that you are a Fulbrighter!” His words satisfied me and I felt that it was worth it to study hard in order to get noticed.

December 12th-15th, 2013 are special dates I will always remember. That is when I participated in the most amazing and unforgettable experience of my life at the 2013 Fulbright Enrichment seminar in New Orleans. The seminar focused on climate change and the environment. More than 150 Fulbrighters came from all over the world to share their ideas and live the joy of being Fulbrighters. It was fantastic to meet so many people who spoke different languages, with many colors of skin, came from a variety of cultures, and had diverse religious backgrounds. We seemed to all love each other even before seeing each other. Even with such diversity, we all shared one thing; the love of the Fulbright program. I gained many new friends from so many different countries. Even countries I didn’t know about before like Papua New Guinea. Now that I am older I realize the beauty of these types of friends. It is important to help others when someone is in need. For example, on our Facebook page, a German journalist and Fulbright friend posted that he had to write an article in a newspaper about the situation in Egypt in order to graduate. He needed to do some interviews with Egyptians, so I helped, and I was very happy to do so. Another friend posted that she needed to collect data about veterans and she didn’t know where to go. My program director’s office is in a VA (Veterans Administration) hospital, so I was able to help another Fulbrighter friend. 

While we were in New Orleans we enjoyed Louisiana’s shrimp during an authentic dinner of Jambalaya in the Musée Conti Wax Museum. We visited the Barataria Nature Preserve too. The most memorable experience was when we worked together to renovate houses and schools that had been destroyed by hurricane Katrina. We created lasting memories during the time that we served the community. This made us one family. Thanks to the St. Bernard project for allowing us to share in these services and to see the smiles on desperate faces.

I believe that when you insist on something you will certainly do it. As Walt Disney said, “Just think about it; dream it and you will do it.” Do you know that Walt Disney was considered a failed man because he wasn't creative and he was kicked out of his work? Michael Jordan was kicked off his school basketball team, but look where they ended up. They are both big names in their fields. So when you read about failures imagine that you will eventually become successful. Michael Jordan and Walt Disney succeeded where others failed because they were persistent; they dared to dream, put their minds to it, and had the courage to excel. So believe in yourself and your ability and you will do the unimaginable. For me, if I hadn’t held onto the dream that I would study in the U.S. one day, I wouldn’t be writing this now. If I hadn’t been persistent to get an A instead of just a passing grade I would have been kicked out of my program. So, if you aim high and put in the time, including a few sleepless nights, you set yourself up for success. ”Don’t look at the failures. Instead work hard, trust yourself, and you will do the impossible.”

Thanks to the Fulbright Program. The opportunity of being a Fulbright scholar will always be appreciated. 

Shaimaa Ibrahim is an Egyptian Fulbrighter studying at the University of Cincinnati.


  1. Mo2aaaaa....aywa b2a howa dah elkalam wla blash ;)

    1. Thank you Mohamed Dosoky. Being with all of you all my life inspired me and gave me strength to go on.

  2. mshallah ,God bless you and go on Fatma Al Azhary

  3. MashaaAllah. A good success story. Keep going and plan ahead :)

  4. God bless you. A very inspiring story. I have one question.Do you apply for Fulbright Egyptian Student Program? I think this program for master only not PhD? Thank you

  5. Sorry for the delayed response, I usually don't check it frequently, but I am glad I did. Thanks Donia for taking the time to read it. Yes, you do apply for that. It was for PhD as well, when I applied. I encourage you to check the website and contact them regarding your question for this year. Maybe, they decided not to sponsor PhD due to financial burden. What I am trying to say is that every year is different and you should constantly educate yourself about the update. If there is a chance to apply, go for it. It's a fantastic opportunity. Don't waste any option and good luck in all your endeavors. Feel free to ask me anything. Best wishes.

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  7. Dear Shaimaa... I'm truly inspired by your successful story...May Allah bless you and reward you with all pleasant things...I wish I would do something like yours soon inshaa Allah...I'm applying now for postdoctoral research grant at Fulbright... Could you please tell me about how your interview went on? How did you get prepared for it? What were the questions they asked you about?