PhD Scholar and Engineer Wins Houchens Prize for Research in Organ Transplantation

April 27, 2020

PhD Student Fatemeh Karami wins John M. Houchens Prize for Outstanding Dissertation.

PhD Student Fatemeh Karami wins John M. Houchens Prize for Outstanding Dissertation.

When Fatemeh Karami defended her dissertation for her PhD in Industrial Engineering in April, it was probably not how she once envisioned it.

First of all, she had to make her presentation virtually, and then when her defense was accepted and it was over, Fatemeh couldn’t be around friends in person to celebrate. But thanks to technology, Fatemeh said her friends and family from her home country of Iran, friends in Europe and across the United States, were able to watch her dissertation defense through Microsoft Teams, which was the next best thing.

After receiving her B.S. and M.S. in Industrial Engineering respectively from Khajeh Nasir Toosi University of Technology and Iran University of Science and Technology in Tehran, Iran, Fatemeh was accepted for doctoral studies at Speed School in 2015 and moved to the United States.

The dissertation defense was the culmination of years of research, and in fact, was so impressive, she was awarded the John M. Houchens Prize for Outstanding Dissertation, given to the doctoral student who submits the most meritorious dissertation with the potential for significant impact on a field.

There are four awards for graduate students, who are nominated by their mentor, director of graduate studies, or department Chair for the graduate student commencement awards. The committee evaluates a student’s dissertation for its importance and timeliness, originality/creativity, significance of the work, and potential impact on the field.

Her doctoral research at University of Louisville focused on improving access to organ transplants in the United States by studying the organ shortage and geographic disparity in access to transplants. She worked during summer and fall 2019 as a researcher at the Epidemiology Research Group in Organ Transplantation at The Johns Hopkins University Medical School.

According to her nomination, the results of Fatemeh’s work have the potential to hugely impact society by improving access to transplants and saving thousands of lives, as well as to support the research community, who can use her tools to answer similar questions for other organs.

Fatemeh believed her award is validation of her hard work. “Knowing that Dr. Alexander and Dr. Gentili nominated me for this is exciting because it’s about a dissertation that has impact in society,” said Fatemeh. “That’s a very good feeling for me. You always wonder what you’re doing – is it good? is it right? is it going somewhere? When you get something like this in the end, you know your work is worth something. This kind of prize is a measure for you.”

She has received additional kudos for her work including the 2020 Distinguished Poster Award from American Society of Transplant Surgeons at the 20th Annual State of the Art Winter Symposium in Miami, FL, earlier this year and the 2019 Women in Operation Research & Management Science (WORMS) Doctoral Student Colloquium Scholarship. In addition to research, Fatemeh was a graduate teaching assistant for Operations Research, Stochastic Operations Research and Experimental Design.

Growing up in a family of engineers, Fatemeh knew from an early age she wanted to be an engineer. “In Iran, you decide in high school on what you will do in college,” she said. Initially, she wasn’t confident about being a math major, but then came in second in a math competition in her province in Iran, and that gave her the confidence to go on to pursue an engineering career.

Now that Fatemeh has been awarded her PhD in IE, what’s next for her in these challenging times?

Currently living in Cleveland with her boyfriend, the engineer’s original post-doc plan was to find a job where she can “apply her academic training in statistics and optimization modeling in real world problems that directly affect people’s lives,” she said. But with the pandemic and the job market, it’s a tough time to graduate,” said Fatemeh. “I have an offer but because of the situation –most companies and universities are on a hiring freeze, so I haven’t made a final decision. I know after this, I’m not a student anymore. But I hope wherever I go and whatever job I get, to keep learning.”

Fatemeh said she is focusing on staying positive and hopeful through the current crisis. “I feel like now people are getting closer to each other, because they are home alone so they are reaching out to each other more often than before. I honestly think it’s a good thing. All the things we’ve been through in our lives – we always know at the end, everything will be fine.”