Tatiana Houhou, 23, is the first from the university to be given the scholarship in the Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine region.
She’s the third non-Emirati Rhodes scholar in NYUAD’s history.
The Lebanon-born student completed her BA in Biology in 2022 and is working as a research assistant in the Magzoub Lab at NYUAD.
My mum used to always tell me that she hoped one day I would find the cure for cancer
Tatiana Houhou, 23, New York University Abu Dhabi
She has previously worked as an undergraduate research assistant at Gresham Lab in New York and at Ramadi Lab in Abu Dhabi.
The scholarship will allow her to pursue a DPhil – equivalent to a PhD – in clinical medicine at Oxford.
She will start at the British university in September 2024. Ms Houhou said being selected felt “absolutely unreal”.
“I thought they had pranked us. They called us back and said they had a few follow-up questions, and then they told me I was the Rhodes scholar for the year,” she told The National.
“Growing up in Lebanon, it’s no secret that it’s very rampant with corruption and nepotism. Our healthcare systems are very much strained, given that we live in a political and economic crisis every day.
“But that presents us with an opportunity to shift our understanding from curative and hospital-based care, which is financially burdening, to a more preventive and primary health care approach.”
Ms Houhou said that systems in Lebanon discourage citizens from asking tough questions, “such as, ‘How do we make this place better for everyone? How do we allow people to really dream big?’”
Ms Houhou said in her science classes, however, the sky was the limit.
“We could ask questions. I felt like science class was my sanctuary.”
Driven by tragedy
Ms Houhou said that losing five members of her family to cancer inspired her to pursue doctoral studies in clinical medicine and work in cancer research.
“I lost my grandmother, two of my uncles and two of my aunts to cancer, and my mum used to always tell me that she hoped one day I would find the cure for cancer,” Ms Houhou said.
“Currently I’m researching cancer but I hope to expand that into genetics and how it can inform a lot of public health reforms in healthcare systems in crisis, whether that is through incorporating genetic screening and other methods within primary health initiatives, rather than secondary and tertiary health.”
Ms Houhou previously used nanotechnology to design drug delivery systems tailored to target cancer cells.
Now she aims to study genetic tumour profiles in order to pinpoint molecular targets for therapeutics and optimise drug delivery systems for patients.
Ms Houhou hopes the Rhodes Scholarship will help take her research to the next level and contribute to the fortification of the Levant’s healthcare systems, as well as bridge the gap between academia and policy to help enact meaningful change.
Established in 1902 by the colonial-era British politician and mining magnate Cecil Rhodes, the Rhodes Scholarship is one of the world’s oldest awards for international fellowship and academic study.
Applicants are selected through an intensive process including a written application and in-person interviews.
Each year, about 100 scholars are selected from more than 60 countries around the world, with NYUAD having produced 19 Rhodes scholars in the last decade.
Last year, the selection committee for the Rhodes Scholarship awarded two places at Oxford to Sara Fekri, an Emirati student at King’s College London, and Guste Gurcinaite, a Lithuanian studying at NYUAD.
Both were selected after nominating themselves for the award along with more than 60 other students.
They were chosen by a committee chaired by Omar Saif Ghobash, Assistant Minister for Cultural Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
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Updated: November 18, 2023, 3:00 AM