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Story | Education
18 June 2020

“This was supposed to be the best time to graduate”


Image source: Philip Lange, via Shutterstock

TAMUQ alumna speaks about her time at the QF partner university, and how she is preparing to deal with an uncertain future

For Syeda Manahil Akhter, becoming an engineer was something she aspired to ever since she was very young. When her time to join a university came, she picked Texas A&M University at Qatar. Why? “The benefits of the facilities and the opportunities offered at the university in Qatar Foundation were really impressive,” she says. But also having lived in Qatar her whole life meant this was her comfort zone – a safe space that came with world-class educational opportunities.

I was leading a team of 11 people where we designed a car from scratch

Syeda Manahil Akhter

A bright mind, Manahil has been on the Dean’s Honor Roll many times, has held several leadership positions for various projects and in different societies, such as the Tau Beta Pi, Engineering Honor Society, but it is one project that she emphatically talks about.

“I was leading a team of 11 people where we designed a car from scratch. We started off last year, and in the last semester we went through the design phase. And once we finished the design phase, we started ordering parts, hoping to put it together. But due to the current situation, we can't complete our car.”

Manahil was building the car for the Shell Eco-marathon (SEM). As part of Qatar National Research Fund’s Undergraduate Research Experience Program and for the Capstone Design Project for her degree in Mechanical Engineering, she was supposed to design and manufacture an energy-efficient gasoline prototype car for SEM 2020.

The Shell Eco-marathon is a program for STEM students to design and build ultra-energy-efficient cars, and then take them out on the track in a competition. Participants from around the world compete in this unique, technically-challenging contest, and the Asian edition was supposed to be held at Sepang International Circuit, Kuala Lumpur, this year.

“The idea of it is to use our knowledge from what we've learned over the past few years and design the vehicle that uses the least amount of fuel over a certain distance. I’d known about Shell Eco-marathon since my third year, but when I saw a (then) senior working on his car, and I saw the different parts of it, and I became very interested.

“So, a group of people, including myself, helped that team out to complete the car. And that whole experience really spiked my interest. It was then that I decided that I would not only join a team, but I would lead it.”

This was supposed to be the best time to graduate according to some statistics, but then, with currently situation, it seems like the worst idea

Syeda Manahil Akhter

Unfortunately for Manahil and her team, they couldn’t finish the car, but they have left a very good base for next year's team to continue on. Understandably disappointed, Manahil says, “We didn’t get to finish our car and see it run in the competition. A lot of hard work has gone into it. It’s our baby.”

Like Manahil and her teammates, scores of students around the world aren’t able to complete their dream projects. And as they graduate, they are stepping from one phase of their lives into another – one that is filled with uncertainty.

“This was supposed to be the best time to graduate according to some statistics, but then, with currently situation, it seems like the worst idea,” Manahil says.

She says it’s very easy to get caught up in a downward spiral and complain. So, deciding to accept the situation, is looking opportunities – like starting research or pursuing further education – and has applied to a few graduating schools.

“Thinking about not getting jobs and not being able to enter the job market won’t help us anyway. And I do not want to waste my time.”

Manahil was approached by four companies before the pandemic, but things changed very quickly, and now of the three, one company still has her recruitment open.

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