Zahra Alghoul, a fall 2020 graduate of the Biomedical Enterprise master’s degree program in the Institute for Biomedical Sciences, already had a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry and a job teaching college chemistry courses, but she wanted to learn more about the business of science.
By LaTina Emerson
Zahra Alghoul had already mastered a major academic feat – earning a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry – but she was still curious about the business side of science.
When she was offered a teaching position at Georgia State, Alghoul packed her bags and moved more than 2,000 miles from California where she was teaching chemistry at another university. After learning about Georgia State’s Tuition Assistance Program, she enrolled in the Biomedical Enterprise master’s degree program in the Institute for Biomedical Sciences because she liked the program’s structure and curriculum.
Time management was essential for juggling her classes and a full-time job as a chemistry lecturer and course coordinator for the Survey of Chemistry courses and laboratories for allied health sciences majors at Georgia State.
“I was able to complete the degree while working as full-time faculty in the chemistry department,” Alghoul said. “I am organized and have good time-managing skills. I developed these skills over the years and learned how to divide the tasks during a busy day, while also finding a few hours for myself. The key to this is planning. You really have to plan your week in advance.”
A native of Beirut, Lebanon, Alghoul is the oldest of her siblings and comes from a science-loving family. The first in her family to travel to pursue a Ph.D., she inspired her siblings to major in the sciences. There are now three Ph.D. holders in her family.
As an analytical chemist, Alghoul specializes in chemical separations, one of the most important and time-consuming activities in chemistry that involves isolating, separating and purifying chemical compounds.
She chose the Biomedical Enterprise program because it is interdisciplinary and has a unique blend of multiple academic disciplines.
“The coursework covers three disciplines: regulatory affairs, biomedical sciences and entrepreneurship,” Alghoul said. “Most graduate degrees are focused on one discipline. The program was unique in this aspect.”
For her elective courses, Alghoul completed directed research in Dr. Didier Merlin’s lab in the Institute for Biomedical Sciences. She synthesized metabolites of an anti-inflammatory drug candidate and tested their potential use in treatment of ulcerative colitis, a chronic, inflammatory bowel disease.
“Dr. Merlin’s lab is doing novel work in developing targeted therapeutics,” Alghoul said. “This research area is at the intersection of chemistry and medicine. Through my research project, I was able to apply my skills in chemical separations while developing new skills in drug design, testing and delivery.”
Interested in one day becoming an entrepreneur, Alghoul also learned valuable business lessons, such as the process for turning an idea into a startup business.
“Most of the entrepreneurs I met through my classes said that they entered the field when they felt it was the right time for their idea,” Alghoul said. “It is a process that starts with an idea, but there are several other factors that contribute to the successful launch of a startup. You ask yourself if this is the right time for this idea, if you are able to put in the effort and do you have a good support system?”
She completed a course on patent law that taught students how to file a patent to protect an idea. She also learned about different funding sources and business expenses, such as employee payroll, renting or buying a property, manufacturing and marketing.
“I learned the steps for establishing a startup business through my degree,” Alghoul said. “One day I will put them into action.”