Rashida Ali

An alumnus of The Indian High School, Dubai, Rashida Ali is a student of medicine at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), a premier medical institute in India. She is a recipient of the Kishore Vaigyanik Protsahan Yojana, a programme of fellowship in basic sciences, initiated and funded by the Indian government’s Department of Science and Technology, to attract exceptionally highly motivated students for pursuing basic science courses and research career in science. Rashida cleared the NEET, JIPMER and AIIMS exams securing an All-India rank of 503 in AIIMS. She is currently preparing for the United States Medical Licensing Examination to pursue postgraduate studies in the US.

Were you always a topper at school?

Yes. I was either a topper of the class or within the top four. However, the motto of my studies was always concepts first. Position in the class was not something I took too seriously.

At what age/grade did you decide to follow the career path you have chosen?

I always wanted to become a doctor. But there were two incidents that I remember vividly that made me decide on my career path. First, my mother used to take me regularly to the public library in Jayanagar, in Bangalore, my home town and where I grew up. There I’d mostly read books on the human body.

Second was when in grade 8, my mother and I accompanied my father for a routine check-up to a hospital. There I saw an invitation for the public to attend short lectures by eminent doctors on common topics about our body and how it functions. My mother and I became regulars to these lectures. These two incidents hugely influenced my choice of becoming a doctor.

What steps did you/your parents take to shape your education/career plans?

My parents gave me the freedom to choose subjects and the field I wanted to pursue. My father was clear that whatever field I chose, I had to get into the best college in India to study in that field. He always encouraged me to aim for higher goals. He also made me participate in KVPY entrance exam in grade 11. That was a good precursor for me to prepare for tougher exams like NEET and AIIMS.

What extracurricular activities did you pursue while in school and how useful were they when it came to making a career choice or earning a seat in the college of your choice?

I used to be regular in sports and activities such as debating, public speaking, emceeing... These didn’t exactly help me pick my field but definitely helped me perform better in college competitions.

Who were your mentors while in school?

I came to Dubai after grade 10 and enrolled in The Indian High School. In school, I had some very good teachers for biology, physics, chemistry and math and that helped me a great deal. My parents and I chose PACE [part of Ascentria, a test-prep centre based in Dubai] as we felt it was one of the best institutes for training for professional courses. The teachers there helped me tremendously, making it easier for me to grasp subject concepts. They were available to help at any time and encouraged me to better my performance.

Rashida says her parents gave her the freedom to choose subjects and the field she wanted to pursue

I used to ask a lot of questions to clear my doubts and regularly went for additional help. It was exhausting but each day I learned something more and felt a step closer to my goal.

Five pieces of advice your teachers/mentors gave you that you think helped you achieve success.

Have a clear idea of concepts. Memorising is easy but will not be enough to take you to your goal. Refer good books.

Be focused on the task at hand. Concentration is key. Regular studies alone will not help. You need to put in extra effort.

Never leave your school exam preparations in the lurch for the competitive exams. Prepare for the former well and you are 50 per cent ready for competitive exams.

Hard work, there is no alternative to that.

Be consistent on what you are doing. Don’t give up even if you face a hurdle.

Five pieces of advice you can give students.

Enjoy what you are doing. If you are not enjoying your studies, take a short break, do something you like, then return to studies.

Have like-minded friends. They are key to keeping you motivated.

Clear your concepts and regularly revise subjects.

Find a balance between study and relaxation hours. I believe that tailoring the study routine to your highest efficiency hours will give you best results.

Remember, breaks are as important as are study hours. Give your brain time to breathe.

Never compromise on sleep. It is essential for memory consolidation. You may believe that you can learn more by sacrificing a few hours of sleep but the result will be the complete opposite.

Something you miss not having done while at school?

No. Honestly, after you get into your dream college, nothing matters.

Your ambition/dreams?

I want to pursue higher studies in the United States for which I am preparing. I haven’t decided my field of choice yet but I have a strong inclination towards neuroscience.


Shreyas Neelakantan Sharma

The 16-year-old, grade 11/IB1 student of Gems Modern Academy is an award-winning public speaker, member of the UAE National Debate Development Squad, a TEDx Youth event speaker, a world champion in individual debate at the World Scholar’s Cup’s Tournament of Champions, and the winner of the Dubai Debate League, an inter-school debate competition in which the country’s top schools participated. Shreyas also set up the Emirates Debate Society, the region’s first independent student-led debating society where students from across the country come together to debate, discuss and learn.

At what age/grade did you decide on the Emirates Debate Society initiative?

The planning for this began when I was in grade 9. The principal and a core team of my school who saw my draft early last year loved the idea and approved the initiative. They gave me valuable feedback after which I presented the project to teachers from other schools. In April 2020, the pilot session of the Emirates Debate Society took place with 50 students from four schools. Today members include over 400 students from more than 45 schools from six emirates.

What led you to set up the Emirates Debate Society?

Ever since middle-school, debating has had a huge impact on me. It was the lens through which I viewed the world. It led to me constantly challenging my own beliefs and engaging meaningfully with opposing viewpoints. Academics taught me what to think. Debate taught me how to think creatively and critically.

Shreyas founded the Emirates Debate Society, the region’s first independent student-led debating society

I had many friends who shared my interests and we found confidence and our sense of self within this pursuit. We wanted to develop into effective communicators and critical thinkers. I realised that there was a need for a centralised platform that can connect students and form a debate community where students can meet to discuss topics, learn from each other and hone their skills.

Tell us a little about the initiative.

Emirates Debate Society is the region’s first independent student-led debating society of its kind. Students across the UAE come together to debate, discuss and learn on our platform. 

We conduct free weekly sessions where, among other things, students learn through discussions on philosophy, economics, policies, and ethics; develop untapped talent by training students in competitive debate sessions adjudicated by experienced debaters; organise large debating tournaments; and help students hone their public speaking and advocacy skills in a safe learning environment. EDS’s mission is to make critical thinking and communication skills accessible to the youth.

What help/support did you receive from your school and at home?

My school’s Senior Leadership Team was very supportive – be it their critique of the first proposal or their guidance and words of encouragement all through. At home, I could bounce ideas off my 11-year-old sister and my parents. They put up with the long and noisy online sessions and late-night calls, took care of my frequent hunger pangs and helped me when I sought any help with troubleshooting.

Who were your mentors? 

Apart from my school principal, Nargish Khambatta, and my debate mentor Sumana Chatterjee, many teachers and principals from various schools also liked the initiative and supported me. Seniors and alumni of UAE schools have volunteered their time as instructors at our sessions and adjudicators at our debate. They have provided me with valuable insights, which helped me organise such events.

Why do you think debating skills are important?

Among other things, it offers students outside-the-box thinking and originality; instead of learning and memorising existing information, debaters focus on coming up with unique arguments and analysing them from different perspectives.

Debating also sharpens persuasiveness and effective communication skills. By trying to convince audiences and judges, we develop the ability to convey our nuanced views and ideas in an effective manner. The art of rhetoric and the confidence developed when one speaks in front of people is a life-long necessary skill. Through debate, one learns how to construct well-thought-out arguments with reasons, logical links, and analysis.

Debating is also a team exercise. Students learn to collaborate with each other as they develop arguments. It encourages us to think on our feet.

Five pieces of advice your teachers/mentors gave you.

Be organised and clear in communication.

Cater your training to different levels of students – beginners to experienced.

Encourage the quieter ones. Provide them with more opportunities.

Regularly seek feedback and iterate relentlessly.

Be future-focused. Think of ways to sustain the momentum in the longer run.

Five pieces of advice you can give students.

Do things that you are truly passionate about.

For debate in specific, think of original arguments. Resist the urge to use the internet and other resources heavily while prepping for debates. Instead, think of the important principles and impacts that the debate is based on. See if you can think of something creative.

Share. Given an opportunity, give a short speech at an event. Participate in blogging, podcasting or debate competitions.

Explore. Look up interesting topics on the internet, read books and listen to podcasts.

Unwind. Play board games with family, listen to music.

How do you plan to take this initiative forward?

We plan on doing more events, competitions, start a blog by members, organise public speaking workshops for younger students... We hope to make debating accessible to more schools and students. 

What is your ambition/dreams?

I want to continue debating and learn more about philosophy, mathematics and politics. I aim to become a lawyer.



Aditya Rangamani

Aditya Rangamani, an alumnus of The Indian High School in Dubai, secured 95 per cent in his grade 12 board examinations and 98.5 percentile in his JEE Main and clearing JEE Advanced. He is now a student of Chemical Engineering at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Tirupati.

Were you always a topper at school?

I was definitely not the smartest guy in the room. But I can definitely say that I was way above average.

At what age/grade did you decide you want to follow the career path that you have chosen?

I was in 10th grade when a few representatives from the Indian Institute of Technology visited our school to give us an orientation programme about the courses. While I was impressed by the course, what intrigued me was the low acceptance rate at the institute. While preparing for JEE, I became more passionate about physics and that eventually led me to choose mechanical engineering as my major.

While preparing for JEE, Aditya became more passionate about physics, which led him to choose mechanical engineering as a major

What steps did you/your parents take to shape your education/career plans while in school?

My parents did some research on which coaching institute to enrol me in and chose Ascentria as we found it suited students who were looking to clear the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE). Shoutout to my sister who did part of my schoolwork for me so I could focus on preparing for JEE.

What extracurricular activities did your participate in while in school and how useful were they when it came to making a career choice or earning a seat in the college of your choice?

I participated in quite a few debate competitions and the Model United Nation Conferences. They were definitely good stress busters as there was just a lot to prepare for JEE.

Who were your mentors? How and why did you choose them?

Frankly, I never mixed JEE preparation and school exams. My main mentors, however, were from Ascentria. They guided me through the whole two years and made sure I did not deviate from my goal and stayed focused. My classmates were a huge help too and in a manner they were my mentors and I’m very thankful to all of them.

Five pieces of advice your teachers/mentors gave you.

When solving a particular question never look at the solution.

Don’t lose sight of the main goal, it might seem far away and might require a lot of effort but the hard work is worth it.

Choose long-term goals over instant gratification.

This may sound extremely cliched, but there’s no substitute for hard work.

Don’t get demotivated when an exam doesn’t go your way; analyse where you went wrong so that you can learn from it and avoid the same mistake. This is the same advice I’d give students. I can personally guarantee that it’s worth it at the end.

Is there something you miss not having done while at school?

Maybe I could’ve bunked classes more and spent time with my mates outside of school.

What is your ambition/dreams?

To pursue masters in my dream university, which is California Institute of Technology (CalTech).


Mariam Kamal Ahmed Yosef alNamrouti

A 13-year-old, year 3 student at National Charity School, Ajman, Mariam Kamal Ahmed Yosef alNamrouti developed a mechanical ‘Eco-friendly Ant’ to solve problems of farmers and those related to agriculture and crops.

At what age/grade did you decide on this project?

iMatter came to my school earlier this year and it was my first time together with other grade 7 students to experience interactive Stem learning. I’m 13 years old and this seems like the perfect time to be exploring all the topics that iMatter covers as I’m starting to think about what I’d like to do when I grow up. I have been interested in the Stem subjects and curious about inventions even when I was younger, but iMatter helped me turn that curiosity into reality and gave me the confidence to know that I could do all kinds of creative things. For example, I didn’t think I could come up with an idea to create the Eco-friendly Ant, the project I presented for iMatter.

What led you to create this project? Tell us a little about the initiative. Any awards you have won?

iMatter is a project that encouraged us to think about a ‘big idea’ that used science and technology, engineering and mathematics to help create new ideas on innovation that would benefit the future.

I had many reasons to create this project – the Eco-friendly Ant – but the most important one is to preserve the environment. Powered by sustainable geothermal energy, the Eco-friendly Ant aims to reduce loss of crops, while producing healthy ones that are free from any harmful substances. This invention is a perfect project to address many problems caused by crop failure.

Powered by sustainable geothermal energy, the Eco-friendly Ant aims to reduce loss of crops, while producing healthy ones that are free from any harmful substances

The Eco-friendly Ant applies Stem in many ways – science is applied in knowing the right climate to grow healthy crops; technology is used in making the whole system that is connected to an application called Smart Ant. In this application, there’s a voice control option so the ants have a smart listening feature and can follow the owner’s orders with amplifiers. Other features of the Ant include wings for flight, bad scent to protect it from dangerous animals, scissors to cut damaged roots, and a camera that records everything so the owner can watch it live.

It also has sensory intelligence and front legs that determine the type of the crop disease and the back legs which provide information about the treatment. This design uses engineering and mathematics to copy the design of an ant as its size should match that of the actual ant so it can move quickly and adjust in the outside environment. The Eco-friendly Ant solves a global problem because many crops are damaged and lost due to drought annually.

We received awards for our work, including an iMatter medal, tablet and a power bank. These were the first things I’ve won from such a huge inter-school initiative and were really motivating and rewarding.

What kind of help/support did you receive from your school and at home?

At school, our science teacher helped us a lot to improve our project and make it more interesting. At home, my mom helped me by looking into the small details of my project. We were even able to continue working during lockdown with the volunteers from Taqeef and Action Care team providing us with guidance virtually if we needed it. I think it’s amazing that companies like Taqeef are creating and funding programmes like this, which help students like me to develop the skills we need for our future careers.

Who were your mentors? How and why did you choose them?

Our mentors were Emi and Hadeer from iMatter and our schoolteachers Rania and Abeer. They are very kind and supportive and easy to talk and deal with. We also had some mentors from Taqeef and it was inspiring to see real engineers come up with solutions and work alongside us.

How do you think this project will help people?

This project will help ensure good health for the crops and avoid any damage. It will also reduce crop losses, which could have a huge impact on the health and economies of many areas.

What were the five pieces of advice your teachers/mentors gave you that you think helped you achieve the success you have?

If you make a mistake, try again.

Think about the disadvantages as well as advantages.

Be creative.

Stay positive whatever happens.

Be confident in what you create.

How do you plan to take this project forward?

I’ll be speaking about this project at different platforms. I will also think of improvements to develop it further. We had some videos made of our project by the iMatter team, which are now on social media so I hope this project gets enough interest to make our idea a reality.

What is your ambition/dreams?

I dream of becoming a scientist specialising in nanotechnology in energy storage. It’s about trying to connect our intelligence with technology. One of our modules in the project was about finding more long-lasting sources of energy use, and this really ignited my interest in the area.

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