The University of Southampton

Mohammed Al Ahbabi

Director General of the United Arab Emirates Space Agency

What were your highlights of studying at the Optoelectronics Research Centre?

A highlight of my time at the University of Southampton was its amazing culture and strong sense of community. I was able to connect with talented people from different academic areas and diverse backgrounds. It was also there that I learned to become a successful scientific researcher and received opportunities to get my work published in some highly respected scientific journals. Of course, the people I met during my university days had a lasting impact on my life and study experience. I made many friends and am still connected with most of them today.

 How did your education at Southampton prepare you for your future career?

Southampton is an institution that lives up to its great reputation. Empowering students with world-class insights, it fosters a culture of equality, diversity and inclusion, allowing students to freely speak their minds and gain a sense of self confidence as they follow their passion.

How has your career developed since completing your PhD at the Optoelectronics Research Centre?

The Optoelectronics Research Centre at the University of Southampton is one of the world’s leading institutes for photonics research and working on my doctoral research there has definitely made a huge impact on my career trajectory. Since graduating, I have worked in different fields and was selected, six years ago, to the role of Director General of the UAE Space Agency, a position that I cherish and value deeply. I am mandated by the UAE Government to work with a skilled team in shaping and growing the national space sector. Since we began, we’ve already accomplished so much.

What have been the major highlights of your career so far?

There have been many, but notable highlights would definitely include building a dream team of committed professionals and working together to establish a world-class space agency in the UAE. Over the years, I’ve participated in the formation of many R&D space centers in the UAE. Most recently, the UAE launched the Arab Space Cooperation Group, of which I was first chair. I have also been nominated to sit on several boards and serve as Vice President of the International Astronautical Federation. Over the course of my career, I am grateful for the recognition I receive as a significant space figure on the international stage.

What do you hope to achieve in the coming years as Director General of the UAE Space Agency?

Looking to the future, I hope we continue to shape a sustainable UAE space programme, positioning the UAE as the gateway to the regional space sector as well as a global space hub.

What tips would you give to current students looking to start a career in your sector?

Think big and aim high – just like we say in the UAE, nothing is impossible. This is something my team and I live by every day. It’s important to enjoy life through the work that you do and at the same time, be proud of the work that you do. Don’t be afraid of failure as it is simply a small hurdle to overcome, and it is only through doing so that you can continue along your path to success.

My time at the ORC taught me how to be a successful scientific researcher and I received opportunities to get my work published in some highly respected scientific journals.

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