RIT graduate pursues Ph.D. across time zones


Nastaran Nagshineh, center, defended her Ph.D. thesis at RIT in April. Faculty from RIT’s Rochester and Dubai campuses served on her thesis committee and include, from left to right, Kathleen Lamkin-Kennard, Steven Weinstein, Nathaniel Barlow, and David Kofke (a professor at the University at Buffalo). Mohamed Samaha participated remotely and appears on the video screen behind the group and alongside Nagshineh’s picture.

Nastaran Nagshineh is one of the first Ph.D. candidates to bridge RIT’s Rochester and Dubai campuses. Her accomplishment creates a path for future students at the university’s international campuses.

Nagshineh completed her Ph.D. in mathematical modeling while working full time as a mathematics lecturer at RIT Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, teaching as many as five classes a semester. She described her Ph.D. journey as “an exercise in perseverance” due to competing demands and long days. Rochester is eight hours behind Dubai, and the time difference meant many late-night classes and meetings.

“I saw this collaboration as an opportunity, rather than as a challenge, because my primary adviser, Dr. Steven Weinstein (RIT professor of chemical engineering), and my co-adviser, Dr. Mohamed Samaha (RIT Dubai associate professor of mechanical engineering), both have the same area of research interest,” she said. “They both worked toward my success.”

Nagshineh is one of 67 RIT Ph.D. students who defended their thesis this academic year and who will earn their doctorate. RIT awarded 63 Ph.D. degrees in 2023.

In 2020-2021, RIT’s Graduate School met and surpassed the university’s goal of conferring 50 Ph.D. degrees during an academic year. That number will continue to grow as students cycle through the seven new Ph.D. programs that RIT has added since 2017, said Diane Slusarski, dean of RIT’s Graduate School.

Meeting these goals puts RIT on a path toward achieving an “R1,” or research-intensive designation, from the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Learning. RIT is currently ranked as an R2 institution. Many factors go into changing a university’s status, including research investment and maintaining a three-year average of 70 Ph.D. degrees awarded per year, according to Slusarski.

“We have met the goals of the strategic plan, and now we look forward to contributing to the research innovation in the future,” Slusarski said. “We want to help the new programs thrive and win national research awards.”

RIT’s emphasis on high-level research is seen in Nagshineh’s Ph.D. work. She applies mathematical modeling to the field of fluid dynamics. Her research has been published in top-tier journals and has gained notice, said Weinstein, her thesis adviser.

Weinstein describes Nagshineh’s accomplishments as “a testament to a fantastic work ethic and commitment” and is inspirational to younger students at Rochester and Dubai.

“The collaboration between RIT Dubai/Rochester has continued,” he said. “Another paper was submitted a few weeks ago with Mohamed Samaha and Nate Barlow (RIT associate professor in the School of Mathematics and Statistics) as co-authors, as well as Cade Reinberger, a younger Ph.D. student in my research group.”

Mathematical modeling is one of RIT’s newer Ph.D. degree programs, and Nagshineh is among its earliest graduates. The program has doubled in size since it began accepting students in 2017, Slusarski said. This past fall, the mathematical modeling program had 35 students, with two graduating this year.

Altogether, RIT has 13 Ph.D. degree programs currently enrolling 438 students, with computing and information sciences accounting for the largest with 117 students. RIT’s other Ph.D. programs include astrophysical sciences and technology, biomedical and chemical engineering, business administration, color science, electrical and computer engineering, imaging science, mechanical and industrial engineering, microsystems engineering, and sustainability.

New programs in cognitive science and physics will launch in the fall.

The growth in RIT graduate education—with more than 3,000 master’s and doctoral students—reflects a demographic change in the student population, Slusarski said. “We have a higher percentage of women in the graduate programs than we have for RIT undergraduate programs.”

RIT’s graduate programs enroll 42 percent women, according to Christie Leone, assistant dean for the Graduate School.

Nagshineh, who also holds an MS in electrical engineering from RIT Dubai, welcomes her role as a mentor to other women students on both campuses.

“As a young woman in an Arabic country, the power of women is often underestimated and undervalued, and I hope to serve as a role model to female students, especially those that question their path,” Nagshineh said.

She plans to continue in her career as a professor and a researcher. “I would like to pursue a research program where I can advise my own students and teach them more deeply.”

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