Student to Student: Overcoming obstacles and achieving your goals

Story by Bilal Zeghum

Bilal Zeghum proudly holds his Chemistry BS degree from the Rochester Institute of Technology.

My name is Bilal Zeghum, and I attended the School of Chemistry and Materials Science at RIT from 2009 to 2014 to pursue my Undergraduate Degree in Chemistry.

During this time, I was involved in research with Dr. John-David Rocha and the materials chemistry group where we worked primarily with Single-Walled Carbon Nanotubes and the synthesis of Graphene materials. One of our primary goals was to look at different metals such as Calcium and Potassium and their effect on the synthesis/purification of Carbon Nanotubes for industrial production.

In our research, we used many techniques found in an industrial setting such as Chromatography and Spectroscopy. We used various types of instrumentation such as FTIR and Fluorescence Spectroscopy to determine the different characteristics of the materials we synthesized. These instruments were available for us to use at the College of Science.

After my research, Dr. Rocha suggested I submit my work for presentation at the Harvard University Undergraduate Research Conference and they accepted it. I then traveled to Boston, on behalf of our group, to discuss our work at the conference and to represent RIT.

During my studies at RIT, I went through the difficulties of deciding where I wanted to go and which career path to take. I wanted to make an impact not just at RIT, but overall in the scientific community. I struggled through many of my courses but also sailed through many others. Many of them came with their own set of challenges and their own set of accomplishments. But through hard work and perseverance, I made it through many of the courses needed for my degree.

When I left RIT to help my family relocate during the second semester of my final year, I didn't realize I had not completed my electives. I moved to Houston, Texas thinking I had finished my degree only to discover much later it was incomplete.

Soon, I began seeking a job in my chosen profession in Houston. After many failed interviews, I remained determined and found a job working as a Laboratory Technician for Occidental Petroleum. After working there for a short period and gaining some valuable experience, I furthered my career and took a job as a chemist for Bureau Veritas. As a chemist, I work on method development and Oil Analysis via different Chromatography and Spectroscopic Techniques such as HPLC, IC, and ICP for Analyte detection. In this position, I can apply my education to the real world of chemistry.

After gaining experience in the industry, I planned on pursuing my MS in Chemistry. After contacting the Registrar’s office to request my official transcripts, I discovered I was not certified for my degree and they suggested I speak to someone in the Department of Chemistry for further guidance. I contacted the department head, Dr. Paul Craig, to get more information regarding my academic certification status. Dr. Craig informed me of the missing requirement which was preventing me from receiving my degree certification. I was missing two courses of humanities credits and one course of advanced research credit.

Since I was living in Houston, Dr. Craig suggested I either take the two humanities courses online at RIT or take them at my local community college and have the transcript sent to RIT for certification. The courses were being offered online at RIT, but not until the fall semester of 2019. I decided to take the courses at my local community college and was able to complete them over the summer.

The remaining one credit of advance research was a bit of a challenge since I would have to be at RIT and involved in research with a faculty member to receive the credit. Upon contacting my former research advisor, I learned this would be difficult while living in Houston. After doing some research into alternatives, I asked if I could use my relevant work experience towards the credit and it was approved. I asked my manager to write a letter of evidence for having gained relevant laboratory skills and mailed the letter to Dr. Craig.

Thanks to the help and guidance from Dr. Craig, my academic advisor, and the staff at the Registrar’s office, I was finally certified for my degree. The process took approximately eight months to complete. My experience taught me that no matter the obstacles, we can achieve our goals if we remain focused and dedicate ourselves to achieving them.


Are you a College of Science student? Do you want to be featured in our Student to Student series? Help your fellow students learn from your experience! Contact us if you would like to share your research or tell your story from one student to another student.


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