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Rana Ahmed Barghout

Rana Ahmed Barghout

  • Degree: Bachelor of Applied Science
  • Grad year: 2021
  • Program: Chemical and Biological Engineering
  • Campus: Vancouver

Growing up in a family filled with photographers, accountants, musicians, and literature teachers, my interest in science and math made me somewhat of a black sheep. Cue me moving halfway across the globe to start my undergraduate degree at UBC.

I was always interested in things outside of engineering, and those interests thrived at UBC. There is an endless number of opportunities for you to get involved. I found myself getting involved with intramurals, Rez life, and design teams. My academic experience was what I had to really challenge myself with. Through my design team and co-op experience, I was able to get a feel for what academic and industrial topics really fascinated me. All these experiences that UBC offered empowered and molded me into the bio-loving, active, problem-solving individual I am today!

Why did you choose to go into your field of study at UBC?

My fascination with biological systems and problem solving started with quiet 14-year-old me sitting in my high school biology class, learning about these things called cells that make up all living things (thanks Mr. Sather!). I knew that I wanted to contribute to the world of biotechnology and help solve some of the world’s greatest global health challenges. After starting my first year of engineering at UBC, I remember speaking to a student in the chemical engineering department and he told me “the best thing about chemical engineering is that you can create a process for anything you want." I always knew I wanted to do something within the realm of biological engineering, but the idea of being able to learn about so much more and get a very well-rounded engineering degree really resonated with me. Chemical and biological engineering was an obvious choice for me, and I’m grateful because I don’t think I would’ve fit in better in any other major.  

What has made your time at UBC memorable?

Spending 5 years at the UBC Vancouver campus has been an unmatchable experience. It’s an experience that is not defined by one moment, but by a collection of moments, some bitter and some sweet. From spending long nights in the CHBE building studying for the unit operations midterm, to watching the sunset over the North Shore mountains at the rose garden, these moments merge beautifully to shape an incredible journey at UBC. The people I’ve met during my studies here, my friends, coworkers, professors, and classmates, have been the best part of it all. Engineering is definitely a challenge, but hardships create unparalleled bonds. I’m extremely grateful to have made such great connections with my peers that have in turn presented me with so many great moments of laughter, collaboration, and joy.

What advice would you give a student entering your degree program?

I had a rough start to my studies here at UBC. Although I was an A+ student all throughout high school, I quickly learned that that doesn’t always translate to being an A (or B or C) student in university. The biggest piece of advice I wish I could’ve taken when I was starting out my engineering degree was to believe in myself. Imposter syndrome is a very real thing when you’re starting out in engineering, and I wish I could’ve known the power that confidence and self-motivation hold earlier. So, to any student starting their engineering degree at UBC, remember that you are where you are because you did something (or in fact, multiple things) right. You deserve to be there and 1 or 2 failed midterms don’t change that!

The second piece of advice I would give is to take one day at a time. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t plan ahead or schedule your work, but it is easy to become overwhelmed when you have loads of assignments, midterms, and project work to do. Take it one step at a time; don’t worry about that big project you have due next month and just focus on finishing the assignment due tomorrow. Stay organized with your work and make sure you make time for self care, because a healthy, well-rested version of yourself will 100% outperform a tired, stressed, and over-caffeinated version of you!

What are your future plans to make a difference in our world?

Through my undergraduate thesis and my courses, I became very interested in the field of biotechnology and how machine learning can be applied to gain more insight on biological systems. I will be starting graduate school in the fall at the University of Toronto to develop machine learning models that can predict protein catalysis behaviour. This is a field that has the potential to revolutionize the biotechnology industry for the better, and I’m excited to learn more about it and contribute to its advancement.

How has your identity informed your academic and professional experiences within your field at UBC and beyond?

Being a minority is never easy, and I quickly noticed that I was outnumbered in my degree as a woman of colour in engineering. Moreover, as an international student, your experiences are very different from your Canadian peers. Although it is often difficult and inconvenient being part of a visible minority, there is a lot of opportunity for empowerment. Connecting with other women in engineering as well as other PoC in engineering is very important. Finding community is so important because it will help you cope with certain experiences and make the best out of situations through sharing experiences and knowing you are not alone.

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