STEEL CITY LABS
Five Carnegie Mellon University Qatar students spent their spring 2022 semester at the Pittsburgh campus. The diverse group of students, then juniors in the Department of Biological Sciences, were able to attend laboratory classes at the Mellon College of Science.
Vania Ashoorian came to CMU-Q from Iran. She was excited about everything Qatar had to offer including the biological sciences major, the neuroscience minor, the small class sizes and the upcoming World Cup for soccer. She soon discovered the research opportunities and the support that CMU-Q professors offer.
“Before college, I had no experience in biology,” Ashoorian said. “I didn’t know the basic things like the structure of the cell and mitochondria. Now, I am talking about tumor suppressor genes and breast cancer. It was a huge shift, and my professor is there for me, and that’s what I’m so grateful for.”
Ashoorian decided to come to Pittsburgh to take advantage of the advanced biology courses and to experience a different culture from what she grew up with. She took experimental cell and developmental biology, which is not offered at CMU-Q. “It was a very challenging course, but it was very unique,” Ashoorian said. “The techniques that we learned through these lab courses in CMU are at the same level of a master’s student. I got to improve my techniques and learn a lot of new techniques.”
Peiyun Ju is from China, and he initially became interested in CMU-Q because of its unique location. When he went for an interview, he loved the country and the university. Though he has enjoyed his time at CMU-Q, he wanted to learn more about Pittsburgh and take advantage of the broader array of classes that were available.
“My time in Pittsburgh defies my expectations in many ways,” Ju said. “I think this experience led me to realize I’m actually part of the CMU community, regardless of which campus I come from.”
Ju took experimental biochemistry, which met three times a week. There, he was further able to develop his lab and research skills. He took other courses that allowed him to practice his presentation skills.
“I also took a lot of graduate-level courses which are not actually offered at CMU Qatar,” Ju said. “By attending graduate-level courses, I learned a lot academically by challenging myself.”
Amir Roshan was originally from the United Kingdom, but his family moved to Qatar when he was a child. Based on CMU-Q’s location and its excellent program in the sciences, he knew it would be a perfect fit for him. He decided to come to CMU in Pittsburgh for a semester to experience a new culture and take advantage of the larger lab spaces.
“The labs in Mellon Institute are larger than the labs in Qatar so they had some apparatuses that are not available in Qatar, which were great to work with,” Roshan said.
From left to right: Martin Sikhondze, Peiyun Ju, Amir Roshan, Ali Tajammul.
Roshan also took experimental biochemistry, where he was able to expand his lab techniques and become more confident in his skills. However, one of his favorite parts of coming to CMU in Pittsburgh was the chance to gain confidence and learn more about himself and the area.
“I was able to make so many new friends and attend so many amazing events such as Carnival,” Roshan said. “I am 100% a completely different person than before I came, and I am confident that I can survive in a foreign country if I need to in the future.”
Martin Sikhondze is from the Kingdom of Eswatini but spent much of his life in Ethiopia. He has done a lot of traveling in his life, so coming to CMU in Pittsburgh was an opportunity for a new experience. Like many of his fellow CMU-Q students, he took experimental biochemistry.
“Before coming to Pittsburgh, I wasn’t really fond of the idea of staying in biology, but then having the opportunity to learn with a different learning perspective made me regain my interest in biology again,” Sikhondze said.
Besides developing his biology skills, Sikhondze is pursuing a minor in business. He used his time at CMU in Pittsburgh to take introductory economics courses which are not offered as frequently at CMU-Q.
“My time at CMU has been a perfect opportunity for me to take these classes,” Sikhondze said. “I’m just trying to make myself as well rounded of a person as I can possibly be.”
Ali Tajammul is from Pakistan, and he was excited to join the CMU community. He wanted to develop his skills in the sciences from an institution known for its scientific skill and rigor.
“When you’re coming to CMU, you’re quite excited, but you accept that it’s a tough place,” Tajammul said. “At the end of the day, I believe that it’s worth it because I have done research here and I have done projects well and I have taken many of the courses as well. I believe that in the last three years, I have grown a lot, and I have learned so much.”
Tajammul took advantage of both mathematics courses and biological sciences courses at CMU. However, he said his favorite course he was taking this semester was experimental biochemistry.
“I have enjoyed biochemistry because it’s fun, and I’ve enjoyed that course as well apart from the academic difficulty,” Tajammul said, “I am working hard, but I’m actually understanding the topic, and I’m doing good as well.”
■ Kirsten Heuring