Global Minds@HKUST series: Shabnam’s Dual PhD Journey Towards an Inclusive World


Shabnam TAGHIPOUR, Class of 2024, is a student from Iran pursuing dual PhD degrees in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and Civil Engineering at Sharif University of Technology.


Working with HKUST's Sustainability/Net-Zero Office, Shabnam (far right), who is passionate about community service and yearns to help create a new world that brings people together, led a group of students and staff in a beach clean-up initiative at the Clear Water Bay.

With over 17,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students from more than 80 countries or regions at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), we pride ourselves as a true cultural melting pot. In the Global Minds@HKUST series, we’ll take a closer look at the unique experiences of some of our international students.  

Embarking on a dual PhD program across two different countries may seem like a daunting task, but for Shabnam TAGHIPOUR, an Iranian student pursuing dual PhD degrees in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and Civil Engineering at Sharif University of Technology (SUT) in Iran, it’s an opportunity to make a difference. In the third edition of Global Minds@HKUST series, we delve into Shabnam’s story and explore how she balances her academic pursuits with a deep sense of social responsibility for a more inclusive world.

Shabnam embraces the opportunity to pursue dual PhD degrees across two countries, aiming to enhance her international experience and expand her knowledge in interdisciplinary studies.


Q: What motivated you to choose HKUST?

My name “Shabnam” in Persian and “çiy” in Turkish means “dew”, a raindrop that settles on petals and leaves, resonating with my strong affinity for nature. Since childhood, I’ve also been fascinated with engineering, finding joy in fixing broken items and transforming ideas into reality. The combination of engineering and the environment has ignited a passionate drive within me, compelling me to pursue a career in this dynamic field.

Specializing in civil and environmental engineering during my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in my homeland, I explored the intricate interplay between human-made structures and the natural world. As my academic journey progressed, I yearned for international exposure and the opportunity to broaden my horizons. That’s when I discovered the collaborative dual PhD program between HKUST and Sharif University of Technology. With high-ranking engineering programs and renowned scholars, HKUST stood out as an ideal destination for pursuing my academic goals while staying connected to Asia.


Q: How has your academic experience at HKUST been so far?

The all-encompassing support and nurturing environment provided by HKUST have indelibly shaped my academic odyssey. The University’s interdisciplinary courses have endowed me with a mindset that transcends conventional boundaries, enriching my PhD research on water treatment with interdisciplinary and innovative perspectives.

Shabnam delivers a presentation on her PhD research.


Attending academic conferences worldwide has been a priceless asset to my PhD journey. Thanks to the University’s financial support, I have participated in conferences such as “ACS Fall 2022 - Sustainability in a Changing World” and “RSC Chemical Nanoscience and Nanotechnology Network annual symposium 2024”, with another exciting one in France on the horizon. These conferences offer me chances to connect with distinguished scholars around the globe and incorporate new insights into my work.

Moreover, HKUST’s robust scholarship system not only recognizes and rewards academic achievements but also serves as driving force for personal growth and future career prospects. One of my recent honors was receiving the Professor Edmond Ko Scholarship, which acknowledges my active involvement in mentoring students during university events and activities.


Q: Juggling dual degrees is quite a feat. Have you faced any challenges?

Undertaking dual PhD projects simultaneously presents a unique challenge, especially with relocation in between. It brings forth the need to adapt to alternative teaching styles and absorb extensive knowledge within a limited time. Fortunately, I’ve learned effective time management skills and a positive mindset from my supervisor, Professor YEUNG King-Lun, a renowned scholar with the remarkable ability to handle multiple projects and a sizable academic group of around 30 students and researchers, enabling me to overcome these challenges with self-discipline and enthusiasm.

Inspired by her supervisor Prof. Yeung (first from the left, front row), Shabnam always embraces a positive mindset while tackling challenges.


Q: Beyond academics, how do you spend your varsity life?

The boundless kindness I received upon arriving in Hong Kong sparked a strong desire in me to contribute back to society and create a more inclusive world from passion to action. Consequently, community service has become an integral part of my life. Through HKUST Connect, I actively participated in volunteer activities ranging from packing food for the homeless to beautifying houses for the elderly in a Tai Po fishing village. These experiences immersed me in Hong Kong’s vibrant culture and fostered connections with locals and fellow international students.

As an Undergraduate Hall Tutor, I served as a mentor in the “Design Your Hall IX Life” initiative, empowering hall residents to become architects of their own lives by reflecting on their traits, goals and skills. Inspired by Professor Garvin Percy DIAS, I also led the “Therapy Dog” project twice a week to foster a relaxing atmosphere through dog interactions that enhanced the well-being of hall residents, reducing stress and anxiety.

As an Undergraduate Hall Tutor, Shabnam (far left) worked with Professor Garvin Percy DIAS (third from the right)​​​​​​ to engage hall residents in the "Therapy Dog" project.


Making a positive impact in the community has provided me with a genuine sense of fulfillment. I am grateful that the University recognized my commitment to community service and honored me with the Alumni Endowment Fund Community Service Award on Global Service Day 2023.

On Global Service Day 2023, Shabnam (far right) won the Alumni Endowment Fund Community Service Award at HKUST.


Q: You mentioned that “Engineers can find a way or build a way to solve problems.” How do you integrate your engineering expertise with community service?

In one recent community service initiative, I leveraged engineering knowledge to analyze satellite figures and identify underdeveloped regions in Colombia - a continent I had never been to before. Working closely with officials and the university, we created comprehensive maps that shed light on these lesser-known locations and helped forecast potential natural disasters.

Experiences like these have inspired me to delve deeper and work on more meaningful projects. As universities in Hong Kong have close relationships with local governments, making them more impactful and well-supported, I am motivated to continue my academic journey as a post-doctoral researcher in Hong Kong, where I can further contribute to the community and make a difference in the world.


Q: Could you give some advice to students who would like to pursue studies overseas?

For students with aspirations of pursuing studies abroad, my advice is simple: step out of your comfort zone and embrace the possibilities. I followed this mantra, embarking on an incredible journey that took me from Iran to the vibrant city of Hong Kong. Now, I find myself fully immersed at University of Zaragoza in Spain where I am fortunate to participate in an exchange program made possible by the Overseas Research Award from HKUST Fok Ying Tung Graduate School. By joining an academic group in Spain that has a longstanding collaboration with my professor, my research endeavors have been profoundly enriched, surpassing the boundaries of my home country and spanning diverse regions in Asia, and even extending to other continents. Therefore, don’t be afraid to leave your comfort zone, as an enriching world awaits your discovery!

Shabnam has forged profound connections with individuals from diverse backgrounds by actively engaging in a variety of activities.


(Photo credit: Shabnam TAGHIPOUR)

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