Sept. 1, 2023

Medical students from Saudi Arabia reflect on their summer at UCalgary

Summer Program for International Research Internship and Training positive experience for all involved
Alfaisal students in Calgary participating in the SPIRIT program
Alfaisal students in Calgary participating in the SPIRIT program. Chris Enns

This summer UCalgary welcomed 11 students from Alfaisal University, College of Medicine in Saudi Arabia. The students arrived in Calgary in June for the Summer Program for International Research Internship and Training (SPIRIT), an intensive 10-week research program for undergraduate medical students, designed to provide international research experience and mentorship for students interested in basic or clinical research.

  • Students in the photo above, from left: Sultan Aldabek, Samhar Alouch, Abdullah Jabri, Rasoul Turko, Sana Butt, Dima Hamze, Mariam Mahmoud, Miral Atout, Hadil Mahmoud, Mylia Abu-Shaar, and Feham Peer Zada. 

“Cumming School of Medicine saw value in building a relationship with Alfaisal because of their high academic standards and UCalgary’s commitment to supporting global outreach,” says Dr. Gerald Zamponi, senior associate dean (research).

“Our students and faculty benefit from having highly motivated international visitors in their research groups, and the experience was also a positive one for our visiting student cohort. This program offers a platform for student researchers to get hands on experience early in their career and establish connections within and beyond their chosen fields of expertise.”

Guided by research mentors at UCalgary including:

  • Dr. Julio Garcia Flores, assistant professor, Department of Radiology
  • Dr. Walter Herzog, associate dean, director of the Human Performance Lab, Faculty of Kinesiology
  • Dr. Bin Hu, professor, Department of Clinical Neurosciences, Hotchkiss Brain Institute
  • Dr. Turin Chowdhury, associate professor, Department of Family Medicine and Department of Community Health Sciences
  • Dr. Veronica Bruno, assistant professor, Department of Clinical Neurosciences, Neurologist – Movement Disorders Program
  • Dr. Tarek Bismar, professor, Departments of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine and Oncology
Prince's Island

From left: Mariam Mahmoud, Miral Atout, Hadil Mahmoud and Feham Peer Zada explore Prince's Island in Calgary.

Students participated in research projects that centred around evidence-based research practices and improved their intercultural capacity in the areas of cannabis use in Parkinson’s patients, enzymes to treat prostate cancer, devices to improve ankle joint movement, cardiac fat in atrial fibrillation patients, health and well-being of migrants in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, and the characteristics of the structural protein titin in muscle movement.


Miral Atout and Mariam Mahmoud enjoy the Calgary Stampede.

Meaningful research knowledge gained by students

“Through my involvement in this program, I've had the opportunity to collect and analyze various types of data, particularly focusing on rehabilitation and exercise training," says Mariam Mahmoud, neuroscience and radiology undergraduate. “This experience has given me insights into the practical aspects of data management and analysis, which I believe will greatly benefit my future pursuits in research. Our interactions with Dr. Garcia have been exceptional. His kindness and willingness to patiently address all our questions made our experience even more enriching.” 

“Our mentor and the staff were extremely supportive in guiding us through the whole process," says Feham Peer Zada, advanced diagnostic imaging undergraduate. “I'll be leaving with hands-on experience with SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences) and a more thorough understanding of statistics, which I aim to expand on in future research activities when I return to Saudi Arabia.” 

Enriching intercultural experiences

“The doctors and colleagues were very welcoming and engaging. Meeting and working with new people, as well as exploring the city and its beautiful surroundings has been a great experience," says Hadil Mahmoud, neuroscience and radiology undergraduate. “Not only did I gain more research skills, but I also learned how to communicate more effectively and work better as part of a team. I’ll hopefully be able to apply those skills and participate in further similar projects when I’m back home.” 

“I was pleasantly surprised by the remarkable friendliness and warm reception of the people during my time in Calgary. The community's consistent sense of cheerfulness, vitality, and perpetual smiles greatly enrich my daily life with an abundance of positivity and joy,Miral Atout, neuroscience and radiology undergraduate. “This experience has not only taught me valuable lessons and beneficial research insights, but also granted me the opportunity to hold on to lifelong memories that I will always cherish. I have built connections, formed new friendships, and worked under the guidance of esteemed doctors, Dr. Garcia and Dr. Bin Hu. I will always be grateful for my time at the University of Calgary.” 


Feham Peer Zada and Dima Hamze presenting their poster at the Summer Student Research Symposium.

Reciprocal gains: supervisors benefited and had inspirational time with students

“The students were enthusiastic and motivated to learn. They had incredible lab skills, and mastered techniques in the lab in record time. We hope they will take back some of what they learned, continue to love what they do, and keep in touch,” says Garcia. “I would recommend this program to other researchers at UCalgary.”

SPIRIT is offered by Alfaisal University with 10 partner universities in Canada, the United States, and Europe. UCalgary’s participation in the program began last year in a pilot project with four students working in various neuroscience labs. After a successful year, UCalgary signed an agreement to offer the program for the next three years.

This year’s student cohort did a phenomenal job in their research and were praised by their supervisors for their hard work and quick learning of complex research techniques. They also enthusiastically embraced the new experience of living in Calgary by visiting the mountains, attending Stampede, and exploring other aspects of Calgary life.

UCalgary’s Global Engagement Plan aims to increase diversity of the campus community, improve global and intercultural capacity within our campus communities and enhance global partnerships — all of which are actively advanced by SPIRIT.

Contact Chris Enns for more information on the program.

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