University of Calgary

Building a culture of research in Qatar

Submitted by tdroden on Sat, 01/15/2011 - 15:00.

Building a culture of research in Qatar

Government considers university research a high priority for country's future
By John Gulka and Grady Semmens

Dr. Tam Donnelly and the students from University of Calgary–Qatar are exploring what's behind rising breast cancer rates in the Middle East. (Photo by Riley Brandt)Dr. Tam Donnelly and the students from University of Calgary–Qatar are exploring what's behind rising breast cancer rates in the Middle East. (Photo by Riley Brandt)

It's been less than a year since Nahrida Nazir Band and Asmaa Hassan Abu Hassan finished their degrees, but they are already tackling one of their country's most pressing public health concerns. The newly-minted Bachelor of Nursing grads are part of a team of researchers examining rising breast cancer rates in Qatar in hopes of improving screening rates and prevention of the disease.

"This is a lifetime opportunity for us," says Band, who was a member of the first graduating class from the University of Calgary–Qatar (UC-Q) last spring. "It is an honour for all of us to plant the first seeds of nursing research in the State of Qatar."

"It is a tremendous opportunity to get to know Qatari women on a more personal basis," adds Hassan. "Fifty women will be in our focus group and we will be working with them to help find solutions to a big health issue in their community."

Research programs at the U of C's first satellite campus abroad are blossoming, thanks in part to generous funding from the Qatari government, which has identified the promotion of scientific research as a high priority for the country's education system. Eight UC-Q research projects have received funding; seven of them from Qatar's Undergraduate Research Experience Program. The breast cancer project led by Dr. Tam Donnelly is covered by the National Priorities Research Program. Other research programs are investigating lifestyle factors in cardiovascular disease, breast-feeding practices in Qatar, cross-cultural nursing practices and differences in learning styles among international students.

"We're extremely excited about the research opportunities we've been given and in coming up with information that will be of benefit not only to the State of Qatar but to health-care treatment and education around the world," says Donnelly, who heads up research efforts at the Qatar campus. "The government here is very supportive and astute about wanting to address the country's health-care issues and using its strong economy and resources to build capacity for research."

Since it was established in 2006, the National Priorities Research Program has awarded about $225 million to 266 research projects. Meanwhile, the Undergraduate Research Experience Program provides opportunities for undergraduates to participate more fully in research activities. Forty UC-Q students are now involved in the faculty's eight research projects.

"We're taking a collaborative approach to this, not the traditional model where students play an apprenticeship role," explains Dr. Brad Johnson, director of the Faculty Development Centre at UC-Q. "Not only are the students full partners, but the funding for this research is extremely generous, too. In North America, the students get about $10 an hour. Here they are receiving $4,000 per project, plus there is money available for conferences and equipment."

Johnson feels UC-Q has a tremendous opportunity to help the state of Qatar achieve its goal of establishing a knowledge-based economy.

"The image of UC-Q and of the state of Qatar is being seen as professional and inclusive. UC-Q and the state of Qatar benefit as active participants in creating a locally produced knowledge repository about local concerns and issues."

One UC-Q grad will get a more long-term benefit from the Qatar campus' push for research. Roqaia Ahmad will be employed in a planned research office on campus. She has been busy translating questionnaires used in the research into Arabic and then translating and transcribing the responses into English for analysis.

"Research gives me deep knowledge about different topics," Ahmad says. "It helps me to learn how to analyze, think critically, problem solve and interpret data skills which are useful in my profession. I have the chance to be involved in each step of the research process."

Donnelly hopes to continue expanding research capacity at the UC-Q by encouraging faculty from disciplines beyond nursing to join in what she calls a hotbed of fascinating subjects.

"Qatar is growing so fast economically, which is causing enormous changes in people's lifestyles, medical practices and personal health," she explains. "Nursing, social work, medicine, and education are just some of the areas where we have a huge opportunity to learn from and contribute to health care at all levels not just in Qatar but across the Middle East."