06.06.2017 - 20:10:27
From Alexandria to Duisburg: Egyptian PhD Students conduct research at the UDE
Since fall 2016 the two Egyptian PhD students Ahmed Ali and Ahmed Kassem work at the department of Transport Systems and Logistics (TUL). The research-cooperation between the University of Duisburg-Essen (UDE) and the Arab Academy for Science, Technology & Maritime Transport (AASTMT) in Alexandria, Egypt, traces back to a close collaboration within the network Emerging Concepts of Logistics (ECoL). In an interview both PhD students talk about work and life in Germany and their future plans.
The ECoL-Network drives innovations of “Emerging Concepts of Logistics”. These concepts are supposed to tackle societal and economic challenges of the future with modern logistics and city planning approaches. Because such complex tasks demand to be discussed in an international team at best, the ECoL-network is set up by research academies from all over the world: besides its founding universities Duisburg-Essen and the Koç University of Istanbul, the Arab Academy for Science, Technology & Maritime Transport (AASTMT) is also part of the network.
Since working together at the ECoL concept, other collaborations arouse between the University of Duisburg-Essen (UDE) and the AASTMT, above all within the network’s annually held ECoL Summer School and in 2015 at the DAAD-funded German-Arab Knowledge Transfer Colloquium. In 2016, this friendship was put on record in a Memorandum of Understanding between the UDE and the AASTMT which shall enforce further ECoL research collaborations between Egypt and Germany. In reaction to this, within the same year, two PhD students from the AASTMT arrived at the Centre for Logistics and Traffic (ZLV).
Since fall 2016 we are happy to welcome Ahmed Kassem and Ahmed Ali at the ZLV and the department of Transport Systems & Logistics (TUL).
In this interview both doctorates talk about their new academic and cultural surrounding, their research topic and future plans:
Looking back on over half a year of living abroad: How did you experience your stay in the Ruhr Area, in Germany, so far?
Ahmed Kassem: I really enjoy my stay in Germany. Even the cold temperatures do not affect me. I kind of appreciate the cold winter as did my family when they visited me.
Ahmed Ali: Well, I am the complete opposite. The winter put me to the test. Walking outside at minus temperatures was a torture for me. I hope I will get used to this soon and, of course, I am really looking forward to experience summer here.
Besides the weather, what would you say about Germany is completely different to Egyptian culture?
A.A.: Most obvious differences appear when comparing nightlife. In Germany, at night streets are empty, shops are closed. In our hometown shops close after midnight. Thus, streets are packed with people. I miss to go out and meet friends at the market.
A.K.: I agree. But this contrast has it pros and cons. Because nightlife in Alexandria seduces you to meet people every night. It feels like in Germany you are not exposed to so much distraction from work or resting time compared to our culture.
What about German food?
A.K: Well, if we go out in restaurants we can only eat side dishes since the meat is not prepared to halal rules. I must confess I have not become the biggest fan until now. Maybe we have to be invited once to eat German food which is prepared halal. This would make it a lot easier to experience the German cuisine.
A.A.: I rarely have tried German food but it seems to be very different from what Arabic kitchen looks and tastes like. I do love the plenty of Turkish restaurants which you can find at every corner, though.
How have you experienced your first months at your new working space so far?
A.A.: We had a warm welcome at the Centre for Logistics and Traffic and the department of Transport Systems and Logistics. At first we had to get used to our role as PhD students. Working on our doctorate demands a lot of self-reliance in the amount we were not used to from the Egyptian education system.
A.K.: Let’s say, we were rather used to work on specific tasks we were given at a time. Here, things are handled quite differently. First of all, we have to deliver our ideas before asking for further advice. One could state that from the first draft until its final completion everything we will be handing in was based on our strain.
What is your research-strategy for the first year?
A.A.: First of all, we try to gain more basic knowledge in order to consolidate the topic of the doctorate. In this period we can still adjust our topic. For instance, I slightly changed my initial idea from a more general approach to a more specific one.
What do you do your research on?
A.A.: I am going to develop quality models for logistics services which help to improve loyalty between the Egyptian industry and third party logistics providers. I am focusing on my home country because Egypt is still missing out strategies for third party logistics businesses on how to implement their services into Egyptian industry in an effective and sustainable way.
What were your motivations to focus on sustainable solutions?
A.A.: I changed my initial topic after discussing it with Professor Noche. He convinced me in emphasising on sustainable logistics. To me the field of ecological economics is a rather new field of study. I am looking forward to integrate sustainability approaches not only into Egyptian but into worldwide logistical models.
Same questions to you, Ahmed Kassem: What will your doctoral thesis be about and why?
A.K.: I am dealing with a model for sustainable medicine supply chains. So far, the pharmaceutical supply chain faces many challenges, lacking regulations and processes that would secure the supply chain which currently leads, besides other problems, to severe medicine shortages.
I developed my PhD-topic by combining my expertise in logistics with the problems facing performing doctors in Egypt. Luckily, I had the chance to attend many conferences and workshops in the medical field through my brother as he is a Doctor and owns a company specialized in the field of medical conference organization and information technology support.
Have you ever had a chance to get to know more about the projects the TUL department is currently involved in?
A.K.: Not as much as we would like to. At the moment, it seems, we really need to focus on our dissertation. Certainly after a while we will open up for promoting our own topic and combining our knowledge with other researchers at TUL, the ZLV and further institutions and companies. Step by step.
How important is it to speak German in your role as a PhD Student?
A.A.: At work we barely need to speak German. For instance, right now we share the same office so we are communicating in Arabic. If we are not talking in Arabic, we mostly come along with English. However, outside of the university it is very important to learn the local language.
Have you already learned the basics of German language?
A.K.: I attended a German course, learned a lot from the German culture and lifestyle. But when it comes to learning to speak the language, I didn’t benefit as much as I had expected since most of the students quit quite frequently so that the group could not develop in a persistent way.
A.A.: I will be starting soon to take German lessons. But apart from that it is very important not only to learn the language in class but also to use it in everyday life. This is the hardest part so far – to find someone to talk to in German.
What are your plans after your PhD?
A.K.: It is too early to think for a change as I’m still working in AASTMT. I certainly would like to find a significant job, perhaps even in Germany. First of all, this would mean that my family would have to come to live with me in Germany. Since they enjoyed their first stay in my temporary home, I am sure they would be looking forward to moving to Germany. We will see.
A.A.: I do not have a one hundred per cent worked out plan, either. I hope my efforts will result into an exciting job profile, most certainly in the industrial and logistical sector.
Thank you for the interview!
The questions were asked by Josefin Schürmanns.
Photo: Ahmed Hussein Mahmoud Ali researches on sustainable service models in large scale industries (topic "Developing a New Logistics Service Quality Framework for Enhancing Customer's Loyalty in Courier Companies in Egypt").
Photo: Ahmed Mahmoud Kassem wants to revolutionise the medical care system of his home around the globe (topic "Information Logistics and Regional Medicine Shortage - A Simulation Model for Sustainable Supply Chain Management in the Egyptian Market").