Abd Al-Rahman Traboulsi is a recent alumnus from the Ohio State University, graduating with Summa Cum Laude in Biomedical Engineering. He was part of the Eminence Fellows program, awarding full-ride scholarships to 25 incoming freshmen every year. With the ongoing war in Syria, Abd Al-Rahman has made it a priority to aid those suffering from his home country, and travels annually working in field hospitals, refugee camps, and mental health facilities during the summer. During his four years at OSU, he conducted translational research on leukemia, worked as an organic chemistry lab teaching assistant, gave a TEDx talk on the Syrian refugee crisis, and started his own non-profit organization called Refuge, dedicated to empowering refugee youth in their pursuit of higher education. Abd Al-Rahman was recognized as a Rhodes and Marshall Scholarship Finalist during his senior year and will continue with medical school at Stanford University after taking a gap year to study at Qalam institute, an Islamic seminary. Abd Al-Rahman’s aspirations to become a physician align with his goal to create change in global health, influencing humanitarian policy to foster better health in displaced populations afflicted by conflict.
What kind of research and research experiences did you partake in during your undergrad at OSU?
I was a student research assistant in Dr. Michael Caliguiri’s lab. We were investigating a strategy that leukemia cells use to block Natural Killer cell development and avoid detection from our immune system. Our goal is to develop potential therapies that utilize our natural defenses to fight tumor formation, a method more promising for long-term cancer eradication.
Secondly, as a member of ENCompass, a public health student organization committed to addressing the social determinants of health, I helped start a research project to highlight food insecurity issues in suburban poverty. We asked participants to photograph barriers in their daily lives to living healthy in order to provide insight into how they conceptualize their food insecurity challenges and to empower community members to voice their opinion.
Why did you want to get involved with research at OSU?
When the conflict in Syria began in 2011, I spent a few summers working in field hospitals along the Turkish-Syrian border. Aside from experiencing the traumatic nature of emergency medicine in a war-zone, I noticed how innovation in healthcare and systemic improvements can bridge gaps that exist for communities afforded minimal resources. I sought a research experience in the basic sciences (leukemia) to build an appreciation for the foundations of medicine, but also got involved in ENCompass to learn more about the connection between scientific medicine and non-disease variables of health.
What are doing now?
I took a gap year before starting medical school at Stanford University to study at Qalam Institute. It’s an Islamic seminary program that builds the foundations of Islamic scholarship and prepares students to be better leaders within the Muslim community. I personally wanted to spiritually ground myself in my faith before medical school, as that is source of my values, morals, and how I conduct myself on a daily basis.
How have your OSU undergrad research experiences helped shape your current career and future plans?
I believe I have a responsibility to use the blessings and skills God has given me to serve those less privileged than me. Through my experiences, I now recognize how research can be used to develop a comprehensive framework of a problem and test different solutions on a systemic level. Ultimately, I hope to translate that to international humanitarian policy in the United Nations by integrating preventative healthcare practices and evidence-based guidelines to truly foster the sustained health of displaced populations affected by conflict.
What are the benefits of undergraduate research?
I had great mentors, in my case, Dr. Bethany Mundy and Dr. Caligiuri, who were always patient with my mistakes and challenged my thoughts to help me develop the mindset of a researcher: how to interpret observations, propose hypotheses, and find methods that can yield tangible results. This led me to conceiving my own project, writing my own grant application, and thankfully being awarded the year-long Pelotonia Fellowship to pursue it. Through my years of research, I developed patience and perspective, whether it’s continuing after repeatedly failing an experiment or acknowledging when to change my approach and attack the problem from a different angle.
What is one piece of advice you can offer to undergraduates who are just starting or involved with undergraduate research?
Many students become involved in undergraduate research to check off a box for graduate/medical school, rather than truly with the intent to benefit and grow within the lab environment. This often ends disastrously, as students rush into the first opportunity that comes up without paying attention to the lab members or the subject of research, ending with research being a burden and boring responsibility for four years. I would advise students to be very deliberate in first identifying areas of research they are passionate about or interested in, and then pursuing research where there is a priority on mentorship and helping the student grow as a scientist and person.