Othman Al Bahri

What is your current position, and what do you do?
I am a PhD candidate in Physics at the University of Cambridge in the UK. My research project explores how small molecules anchor on nanoparticles in devices such as Dye-sensitized Solar Cells, and the ramifications of the associated interactions on the device’s function. One interesting aspect of this is that these interactions occur at vastly different temporal and spatial scales simultaneously. The ultimate goal is to probe such interactions during the device’s operation to help design better molecules.

Describe your study/employment pathway so far
During my Honour’s year as part of Dr. Neeraj Sharma’s group at UNSW, I was introduced to the idea of studying chemical processes in devices, such as lithium-ion batteries, during their operation. This is unlike conventional chemical characterisation techniques that take the device apart to study the effects of operation on its components after the fact. The disruptive potential of this idea fascinated me, despite being extremely challenging in practice. After leaving UNSW, I worked briefly on a technology start-up in Oman before joining the Molecular Engineering group at the Cavendish Laboratory and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory to continue learning about this idea.

What has been your biggest challenge, career-wise?
The two main challenges I have faced so far are deciding what to work on, and securing funding to work on it. There are many global challenges that require our attention but resources are limited; so, learning how to prioritise is important. This is not helped by commonplace misinformation in the public sphere and positively-biased scientific literature. So, I had to become better at taking arguments apart and seeing the implicit biases and assumptions. Secondly, I didn’t realize how difficult it is to secure funding for research projects and technology start-ups until I had to do it myself. I have been fortunate to have a supportive network of mentors who have helped me navigate these murky waters.

What do you believe are the greatest attributes of a successful scientist?
The scientists I admire the most make their work about the world, not just the scientific literature, and are great communicators. They don’t only communicate findings but also vision and passion. They are also exceptionally good at combining ideas and blurring the lines between disciplines.

How have you used the skills/knowledge that you acquired, from studying chemistry, in your current role?
The practical laboratory skills I learnt while studying chemistry have proven transferable to my current role as a physics student. For example, single-crystal growth and fabrication of electrochemical devices are routine tasks in my current project. Most importantly, the emphasis on practical skills during my chemistry training allows me to design experiments to test hypotheses efficiently, which allows me to gain deep insights from theoretical models since I get to see how each approach enforces the other.

What are your interests outside of work?
Too often, I spend my time pondering existential questions and learning the history of philosophy. I like classical Middle Eastern music and hope to someday learn the Oud. I also play football and enjoy learning football tactics.

What helps you achieve a work-life balance?
I like to separate my work environment from other activities, and tend not socialize with other scientists outside of work. This stops me from being drawn into one social bubble and keeps life interesting. Although I must admit that work takes the majority of my time.

Is there anything you would like to share?

  1. University years can be difficult and many are forced to suffer in silence. If you know anyone who is struggling, help them find help and spare them your judgment. UNSW CAPS are highly trained professionals who are always there to help.
  2. Soft skills are hard to learn so it is wise to invest some time learning them. UNSW has an amazing careers and employment service that I highly recommend every student to use.

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