Mena Abdelsayed, 24, who began university at age 16, has earned three degrees in seven-and-a-half years.

people

At 24, SFU alumnus simultaneously completes two graduate degrees

June 11, 2018
Print

By Diane Mar-Nicolle

Ask Mena Abdelsayed about the age-old dichotomy between religion and science and he will assure you they are different pieces of the same puzzle.

And he would know.

Abdelsayed, 24, earned a Master of Theology from the University of Durham in the U.K. in February this year after studying online for two years. This month, he also receives a PhD in biomedical physiology and kinesiology from SFU.

Born in Egypt and raised as a Coptic Orthodox Christian, Abdelsayed sees his religion as an integral part of his life—not solely as a place to pray, but also as a moral standard.

He came to Canada as a toddler and endured years of English language classes before entering SFU at age 16, two years ahead of his peers.

By age 20 he had completed a BSc in biomedical physiology and kinesiology (BPK) and immediately embarked on an MSc in the same department. Within a few months however, he received the green light to start PhD studies instead.

Today, under the tutelage of BPK professor Peter Ruben, Abdelsayed has published several academic papers and become an expert in heart research, particularly inherited heart problems known as arrhythmias.

He credits “the cozy Ruben lab” for nurturing his passion for the heart, and for teaching him first-class research skills.

“I was the youngest person in the lab, with very little experience,” he says, “so there were many times when I thought about giving up.

“Fortunately,” he adds, “Peter always supported me. He has the ability to convince you that you will succeed and I will be forever grateful for his support.”

Earning three degrees in just seven-and-a-half years has given Abdelsayed plenty of time to explore his options. He acknowledges that theology and science are traditionally viewed as isolated disciplines, but he’s determined to find a way to show there are commonalities.

“The textbook can be useful in tackling many problems, but when life throws you trials and tribulations, you need to come up with unique and creative solutions.”

Ideally, he would like to remain in an academic setting where he can feed the mind and soul as a professor of science and philosophy. However, he remains alert to his own advice.

“Always have plans in life, but keep your mind open too. The world is changing at a fast pace. Remember to lift your head and look at the big picture.”