Catching up with Majd Abdulghani, Iowa State alumna and Rhodes Scholar

November 22, 2019 - by Sarah Igram

Majd Abdulghani received her Master of Science in Genetics and Genomics from Iowa State in 2018. Later that year, she learned she had been selected as a Rhodes Scholar, and she became the first student from Saudi Arabia to receive the prestigious scholarship. Abdulghani recently began working on her Ph.D. at Oxford University alongside the 2019 cohort of 100 Rhodes scholars. She will be studying how cancer patients’ genes affect their responses to radiotherapy. Sarah Igram, Graduate College Communications Specialist, spoke with Abdulghani about her experience at Oxford thus far.

Q: What have your initial impressions of Oxford been?

A: That it’s very historic and beautiful. I can immediately understand why it’s called the City of Dreaming Spires. There is definitely ambition in the air, but it’s also clear that it’s not all about work and studying- there are plenty of things to do outside of being a student. I think Oxford is very much a “work hard, play hard” kind of place.

Q: How do you feel now that you’re officially at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar (and the first Rhodes Scholar from Saudi Arabia)?

A: I feel extremely privileged! I know that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I’m so grateful for all the people, at ISU especially and elsewhere, who helped me get here! I also increasingly recognize that it’s a responsibility and a means, not an end in and of itself. I hope I can represent my country well now and go back in the future to make it better.

Majd Abdulghani

Photo by Christopher Gannon, Iowa State University

Q: How has settling into the UK been so far?

A: Slightly overwhelming. There are a lot of things that are different from what I’m used to (both in the U.S. and in Saudi), but it’s been kind of fun discovering these differences. For example, getting used to which side of the road to check when I’m crossing the street, coming to terms with having two faucets in the sink (one for each temperature) and keeping up with the huge amount of paperwork.

Q: What specific research projects do you have in mind as a Ph.D. student?

A: My main goal is to help make radiotherapy more effective for cancer patients. I’m studying how patients’ genes affect how well they respond to radiotherapy. This will help us make radiotherapy more personalized for patients based on their DNA, rather than using a one-size-fits-all approach.


Q: What do you hope to accomplish in your first year on campus?

A: For my first year, I will explore all that Oxford has to offer. I will attend workshops on things I have no idea about, make an effort to socialize with people from vastly different backgrounds (being a Rhodes Scholar really helps with that, as Scholars come from all over the world and with all sorts of backgrounds), try out different clubs and societies, and at the same time, I will put in the effort to make substantial progress in my Ph.D. project.


Q: What campus resources would you recommend ISU students utilize if they’re thinking of applying for scholarships?

A: First and foremost, the Office for Nationally Competitive Awards. Reach out to them and they can get you started with identifying the scholarships or funding opportunities most suitable for you, and then connect you with all the people who can help you make your dream a reality! The Center for Communication Excellence was also incredibly helpful during my application, so make sure you get in touch with them when you’re at the stage of putting your ideas down on paper.


Q: What advice would you give to students applying for scholarships and grants?

A: Go for it! But preferably don’t go for it without a plan. Find people to help you get what you want. ISU has great resources to help you through every aspect of an application, from figuring out your plan, to putting it in writing and submitting it, so make use of that. And, in the words of my favorite author Brandon Sanderson, remember: “Journey before destination”. Getting the scholarship or grant is great, but focus on growing from the process. No one can take that away from you.