Illustration by Joaquín Kunkel

Alumni Working on Campus

A conversation with some alumni who decided to come back and work at NYU Abu Dhabi.

Oct 14, 2017

NYU Abu Dhabi, one of the youngest universities in the world, has just produced its fourth cohort of graduates. Despite their relatively small number, alumni have spread around the world. However, one of the most popular post-graduate destinations is the Saadiyat campus itself; there are many who choose to stay at NYUAD and begin their professional careers here. Alumni Liza Tait-Bailey, Garreth Chan and Dean Shaff — all working in various capacities on campus — shared with The Gazelle their different experiences transitioning from student to staff member.
TG: Could you briefly introduce yourself, and your current position on campus?
LTB: I graduated in May 2017, and I currently work as a Research Assistant for the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Working Group. As part of my work, I mainly assist Tina Wadhwa, Associate Director of Health Promotion and Sexual Misconduct Support, and Hannah Brückner, Vice Provost for Faculty Diversity.
DS: I am an Assistant Research Scientist, working as part of a radio astronomy collaboration. I originally worked in New York in my first summer [after graduating] and started working in the Abu Dhabi lab in March 2017.
GC: I work as the Program Coordinator for the Office of Social Responsibility and Community Life. I graduated this May, and started my current job from mid-August onward, but I worked as a Student Assistant in the same office for two years.
TG: What is the main focus of your job, and how did your undergraduate experience assist you in assuming this role?
LTB: In my sophomore year, I founded REACH along with my friends. Through founding REACH, I got to frequently work with the Health Promotion Office. I had always been very involved and passionate about the issues that the office dealt with, like mental health and student wellbeing. A very important part of my work is presenting students’ side of things, and making sure that all of the programs are meeting students’ needs. And after two internships on campus, I have come to understand the very specific needs of the school that would have taken more time to grasp if I was a complete outsider.
DS: I graduated as a Physics major, and my capstone project involved programming in Python. My boss needed someone who had skills in these specific kinds of software development, and my experience met her needs, so I came to work as part of the team.
GC: My office actually does not deal with the student body — in fact, it has very limited interactions with the students. We work with NYUAD’s contract staff, and we provide educational opportunities and social initiatives. We also focus on community-wide events, which include faculty, families of the faculty, and Everybody Except Students — that’s the motto — and my time as a student assistant helped me immensely. It was a very extensive work in that there was much flexibility in taking projects.
TG: Have you found any significant changes while transitioning from an undergraduate to an alumnus working on campus?
LTB: Realizing the different statuses from being a student to a staff member was a real transition period. I think it was, in a way, quite a weird period, being on campus but not actually being a student. My roles have expanded, and I had to figure out what it really meant to be a staff member now. So I had to take some time redefining my identity on campus.
DS: At first, it’s kind of a strange role to be in. I have friends in other years, but mostly our schedules don’t really work out. Now that I’m no longer a student, I have different work routines — there are days when I have to extend my work or make observations at night to do space-related research. Personally, I think the biggest difference that draws distinction with my undergraduate experience is the dorm life. In NYUAD, social life greatly centers around the dorms; you spent much of your time hanging out in friends’ room, or chilling in the lounges. [However,] I can no longer enter it like I did as a student, so these kinds of institutional barriers definitely marked a difference.
GC: A lot of people might tell you, and rightly so, that the transition is easier than expected because people have their friends still on campus — it doesn't feel as detached as other work environments might ... because we're in the same community we grew up in and built connections in. This rings true for me as well; a lot of friendships that I've built are still here. But I think for me the biggest transition is the fact that I loved the work I did as a student assistant, and now I have an opportunity to do that work full-time.
Through my engagement with the university, I have been very humbled to be able to do many things beyond classwork, and I had enjoyed doing [that] work immensely. Now, as a full-time member of the office, I get to put all my time and energy in this area. So for me the staff experience is different in that I used to love what I did but had to split time as an undergraduate intern. Today, I am able to do it all the time and commit entirely to it.
TG: Lastly, do you enjoy your job? If so, what aspects make you enjoy it?
LTB: I absolutely love my job, and I think I am very lucky because I want to continue working in this area. One of the things I organize frequently is consent education — I led consent dialogues on campus [during] Sexual Respect Awareness Week. To be able to do what I am really passionate about in the university that I love is a blessing. Because I know how overworked the office is, I’m glad to be of help and provide further resources to the school as a person with more awareness of the tangible student issues.
DS: I have learned so much through my job — because it involves more hands-on development, I get to make a lot of design choices on how the software I’m working on would look and behave. This would have not really happened if I was in a more structural job in tech companies. I have good collaborators to work with, and my boss is always willing to use her time and guide me. So yes, I do love my job.
GC: I like the job, and I think it deals with work that is ultimately important, particularly within the context of the UAE. We talk a lot about labor issues in this region, and how to improve the wellbeing of migrant workers, who account for a huge population in the UAE. In other words, it’s work that potentially has a profound impact in this area, especially because we are trying to branch out and work with Corporate Social Responsibility programs in other companies. It’s one of the key focuses of the UAE, as well as the area that received common criticisms on the country’s way of dealing with the issues. Our program strives to make sure that the questions of how are addressed. That’s a huge part of what we do, both within campus and outside of it.
Soohyun Hwangbo is a staff writer. Email her at
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