Oasis of the Middle East: KAUST

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KAUST campus from different angle. Source: KAUST Website

Many of us might be wondering which university to aim should we plan to continue our study to Middle East. Worry not. In this article, our contributor, Ghifari, gives an overview of what it’s like to study at one of the universities in the Middle East – King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). Who knows that it should be on your list. Check it out!

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Located in the shore of the red sea, a newly born university – King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), aims to bring back the Middle East reputation as the center of knowledge, similar in 12th century. KAUST is also the first mix gender university and utilize English as the official language in the community. Although considered as a very young university, KAUST is gaining a terrific international reputation for the research. For instance, KAUST is acknowledged as the world highest citation per faculty in 2016/2017 and also ranked 19th for the fastest rising universities for high quality research output.

Prior to joining KAUST as a student, I visited KAUST twice as a visiting student during my undergraduate study at ITB. I was impressed with the unparalleled facilities available for the scientists. I engaged with world class researchers and utilized the most-advanced research equipment in this era. Imagine, as an undergraduate student, you are exposed to nano-fabrication lab, where the microchip of your gadget is generally developed. At that point, I decided to join KAUST for my advanced degree.

I joined KAUST in 2018, with a scholarship from KAUST. KAUST Fellowship covers the tuition fee, housing, medical insurance, and monthly stipend. The monthly stipend gradually increases from 6,200 for masters and 9,200 SAR (1 SAR = 4,000 IDR) for a PhD candidate. Given the free housing and insurance, you would need around 1,500 SAR for the monthly stipend, which is adequate to cover the living expense (mainly meals, etc.). Further, the KAUST fellowship provides you with a vacation allowance depending on your nationalities. So, you should have no worries regarding personal financial matters here.

In KAUST, there are 9 research centers, including my research center, Water Desalination and Reuse Center. At this research center, there are 9 professor-led labs. I am specifically working in interfacial lab, focusing on understanding the mechanism of the interfacial phenomena, down to the molecular level. In this context, I mainly utilize several techniques: atomic force microscopy, surface force apparatus, and standard nano-fabrication lab. What I love about KAUST is, you can get trained with all equipment and operate by yourself. This will help you grow as a young scientist by providing you all the scientific experience you need.

My friend and I spending time to deposit metal in nano-fabrication lab. Photo provided by Author.
My friend and I spending time to deposit metal in nano-fabrication lab. Photo provided by Author.

In KAUST, there are shared labs available for all researchers in KAUST, namely core-labs. Core-labs consist of 12 labs, such as nano-fabrication lab, imaging lab, green house, etc. The system to utilize the tools in these labs is astonishingly simple. Initially, we have to contact the PIC (person in charge) for the tool for training. The PIC will arrange the training. After being qualified, we can book the tool and use the tool at our convenience. As simple as that.

Housing facilities in KAUST are divided into two categories – for students and employees. Both types are further divided into single and married categories. In my case as a single student, I shared a house with one housemate. Every student will have their room, personal bathroom, shared kitchen, living room, and washing machine.

Typical apartment for single student. The student will have their own room, and other shared facilities. (Source: KAUST Website)
Typical apartment for single student. The student will have their own room, and other shared facilities. (Source: KAUST Website)

From demographical data, KAUST community consists of 108 nationalities. The multi-cultural society of KAUST enables me to get exposed to different cultures. The mix of eastern and western cultures is well blended inside KAUST. Inside KAUST itself, you have multiple different options to have your meal. Based on my experience, the best one is the lamb with the rice itself. But if you are not a fan of Arabic cuisine, we have Indian, Western, and Italian food. Or cook by yourself!

Outside the lab, KAUST also concerns about your physical and mental health. To that end, KAUST provides the community with three recreation centers, and for free. The recreation center offers you with gym, swimming pool, badminton, soccer, gaming center, etc. I personally benefited from these facilities because I love to play badminton and soccer. We just have to book the court and play, very simple!

KAUST Recreation facilities are ranging from swimming pool to tennis court. All KAUST residents can book the facilities for free. (Source: KAUST Website)
KAUST recreation facilities are ranging from swimming pool to tennis court. All KAUST residents can book the facilities for free. (Source: KAUST Website)

Sometimes, staying in KAUST is a little bit boring. Fortunately, Jeddah is only 45 minutes away by car from KAUST. Saudi Arabia’s culture, blended with modern living style, makes Jeddah special. I love to visit Al-Balad, where historical architectures mixed with a traditional market that sells almost everything. Here, I sometimes enjoy an Indonesian meal. If you tend to visit the mall rather than traditional places, Jeddah has numerous different malls. My favorite one is Red Sea Mall. You can have all western food, clothes, books, and accessories here.

Overall, my experience in KAUST is excellent. I can nurture myself as a young scientist in a very supportive environment. I managed to have a dreamed work-life balance in KAUST. I managed to get myself 6-8 hours sleep, workout, socialize, and stay ambitious as a young researcher. I also highly recommend KAUST for you who are already married, since KAUST community is very safe and has tremendous world-class facilities for children. Approximately, 60-80% Indonesian researchers in KAUST are married!

If you are willing to join KAUST as a student, it would be helpful if you are doing your undergrad from UI, ITB, and UGM. However, there is no strict cut-off if you are not from those institutions. You also need to prepare generic required documents, including CV, TOEFL, GRE (optional), and letters of recommendation. Feel free to contact me if you are interested in joining KAUST. I am happy to share more of my experience to you. Cheers!