Transformative UWA experience for Iraqi PhD students

13/01/2021 | 3 mins

After five life-changing years studying at The University of Western Australia, Dr Hebba Al-Lami was eager to share the experience with her students at Mustansiriyah University in Baghdad. 

Thanks to the strong partnership between The UWA Institute of Agriculture (IOA) and the Higher Committee for Education Development in Iraq, Dr Al-Lami and Dr Rasha Al-Saedi recently joined the growing list of academics to complete their PhDs and return to Iraq. 

Fully funded by the Iraq Government, 12 Iraqi students have completed English language training and their postgraduate studies in agriculture and related areas at UWA since 2005. 

“I look forward to teaching my students that they can learn new techniques like me, so they can get scholarships and fellowships and be in demand worldwide.”

Dr Hebba Al-Lami

With support from UWA supervisors Professor Martin Barbetti and Dr Mingpei You at the School of Agriculture and Environment and IOA, Dr Al-Lami published six research papers and completed her thesis on Alternaria leaf spot in Australian canola.

“By isolating the disease from the leaves, I was able to find 11 species – including some that had never before been reported in all of Australia, Western Australia and other states,” she said. 

“Among those species were two that are highly pathogenic – Alternaria brassicae and Alternaria japonica. 

“My studies included finding the temperature stage for Alternaria japonica that it is highly desirable for a pathogen. We also managed to find a resistant genotype that can naturally resist japonica. It was an amazing feeling, to get that result.” 

Dr Al-Lami said her research provided a new understanding of the prevalence of Alternaria leaf spot in Australia, and would help WA avoid an outbreak of the devastating disease in the future.  

In addition to developing new skills in statistics and agricultural science, Dr Al-Lami said living and studying at UWA helped her grow as a person. 

“I am now more independent, more confident, and more responsible,” she said. 

“I look forward to teaching my students that they can learn new techniques like me, so they can get scholarships and fellowships and be in demand worldwide. 

“I will tell them: be good at English, travel to study, and all the doors will open to you.”

Fellow PhD graduate Dr Al-Saedi said her time living and studying at UWA had helped her greatly in her career in lecturing and research at Mustansiriyah University.

“I learned many things about my profession that I have taken back to my country, such as how to conduct high-quality research, publish high-impact papers and work with people from culturally-diverse backgrounds,” she said.

Dr Al-Saedi completed her thesis last year at the School of Civil, Environmental and Mining Engineering in collaboration with IOA. 

Her research conducted various experiments on vertical flow constructed wetlands – a natural alternative to traditional methods of wastewater treatment. 

Dr Al-Saedi examined the performance of these wetlands on removing nitrogen under both unsaturated and saturated conditions, then manipulating the substrate conditions to enhance removal processes.  

She published three papers from her thesis in high-quality international journals.

“My time at UWA has helped me a lot in my career back home,” she shared. 

“Learning from research experts, such as Professor Keith Smettem and Professor Kadambot Siddique, has helped me strengthen my scientific skills and practical experience.”

Professor Siddique said it was very pleasing to see talented and enthusiastic graduates return home to share their experiences at UWA. 

“We look forward to continuing to strengthening our relationship with the Iraqi Government through this postgraduate programs,” he said. 

“During the past 10 years we have trained numerous Masters students from Iraq, and delivered several master classes to Iraqi professionals with funding support from the Iraqi and Australian governments.”

This article was featured in The UWA Institute of Agriculture's December 2020 Newsletter

Media references

Rosanna Candler, The UWA Institute of Agriculture Communications Officer, 08 6488 1650

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