BIMS 2023 Graduate Arby Abood, PhD: Journey from Iraq to Virginia to Become a Scientist

July 5, 2023 by

Arby Abood

Arby Abood, PhD

Growing up in Iraq, Arby Abood dreamed of becoming a scientist his whole life. In 2003, at the age of 15, he and his mother fled Iraq to Jordan due to sectarian conflicts after the Iraq invasion. While in Jordan, Abood finished high school and began seeking higher education, but faced many obstacles like harassment and economic difficulties. He moved to the U.S. in 2008 on a refugee visa and worked full-time while pursuing his undergraduate studies. He earned his bachelor’s degree from George Mason University in 2013, which is also the year he became a U.S. citizen.

With an undergraduate degree in hand, Abood didn’t know there would be many more difficulties ahead on the road to becoming a scientist. He faced challenges getting accepted into a master’s program, dealt with continued racism and alienation and suffered from depression. But he persevered and achieved his master’s degree in 2018 from Clemson University.

Abood began pursuing his doctoral degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics through the UVA School of Medicine’s Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program (BIMS) in 2018. He had a wonderful, supportive advisor who helped him find resources to flourish and encouraged his continued healing from the trauma he experienced as a refugee and in subsequent years in pursuit of his education.

“For a PhD student, the pursuit of academic excellence often comes with significant mental health challenges. The pressures of research, publishing, teaching and often the expectation of perfection can lead to immense stress, anxiety and even burnout. It’s essential to foster an environment where mental health is prioritized,” states Abood.

In spring 2023, Abood accomplished his ultimate goal of becoming a scientist by achieving his PhD. Although he faced much adversity throughout his life and education, he never stopped reaching for his dreams.

“While the journey has been filled with challenges, each one has grounded me more deeply in humility. It has shown me that even in the harshest circumstances, one can still learn, grow and contribute to the world in meaningful ways,” —Arby Abood, PhD

We are so proud of Abood and his accomplishments! His unique perspective, experiences and diversity that he brought to UVA during his time with the School of Medicine has enriched our lives and the BIMS program.

Read more about Abood’s life journey and passion to become a scientist in a story he wrote for eLife magazine.


Filed Under: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Education