Convocation Spotlight: Ahmed Essa

PhD graduate Ahmed Essa journey into graduate studies began when his father passed away as a result of an acute ischemic cardiac attack.

08 June 2022

ahmed-essa-picture-for-convocation---ahmed-essa.jpgThe COVID-19 pandemic may have brought challenges, from ever-changing restrictions to an unplanned halting of research activities, but PhD graduate Ahmed Essa found a silver lining. He used the extra time to focus on data analysis, attend virtual conferences, draft his dissertation and spend time with his growing family. 

“We can always look at any challenge as an opportunity to learn new skills and foster our abilities,” says Essa. “I was able to communicate regularly with my supervisor and colleagues, so I never felt stranded.”

This week, Essa proudly graduates from the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. His research, inspired by personal loss, focused on investigating ischemic heart disease and tissue damage after heart attack. 

He shares with us his passion for research and reflects on his prolific graduate career, in part made possible by the support of his family and his supervisor, Dr. John Seubert. 

What drew you to this area of study?
My personal interest in pursuing graduate studies came when my father passed away as a result of an acute ischemic cardiac attack. I wanted to better understand exactly how an ischemic cardiac attack occurs in an attempt to improve the clinical outcomes. During my master’s degree I learned that ischemic heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. I wanted to continue in the field of cardiovascular research for my PhD to better understand why there has been a significant increase in chronic heart failure even though successful strategies and therapies after ischemic cardiac attacks have decreased acute mortality rates.

What moment are you most proud of?
The most thrilling and proud moments in my PhD journey were when I was able to contribute to the advancement of science and research by publishing, along with my colleagues and mentors, 18 peer-reviewed papers in reputable journals. 

I was also honoured to receive several more than eight major scholarships and awards during my PhD studies, including the Izaak Walton Killam Memorial Scholarship and the Alberta Innovates Graduate Studentship in Health Innovation.

What was the biggest challenge you faced?
The biggest challenge was maintaining a healthy balance between my work and my family life. My wife and I have a beautiful daughter and were blessed to have twin boys while I was in the first year of my PhD studies. This was a big challenge as we turned into a busy family with three children. 

Thanks to the support of my family and my supervisor, I was able to accomplish all my tasks. Dr. Seubert’s guidance and mentorship helped me a lot during my journey. I express my genuine gratitude and appreciation to my caring mother, lovely wife and my three children, who fill my life with hope and happiness. They all have always been my source of strength throughout this journey and I thank them for their unwavering love and encouragement.

What comes next for you?
My main career goal is to become an independent investigator and a faculty member with my own research laboratory with a primary focus on translational research. My research interests primarily focus on cardiovascular diseases with the goal of understanding pathophysiological mechanisms to assist in developing new therapies. I am also currently working to get my Canadian professional pharmacist’s license.

What advice would you give to new graduate students?

My advice to other students is that the most essential characteristics of a successful PhD candidate are enthusiasm, passion and dedication. Finding logical solutions to research questions and challenges comes with commitment and strong passion. I would say always allocate time for your families, friends, cultural activities and hobbies to recharge and achieve long-term success.