Overcoming the Challenges of Grad School: An International Student’s Perspective

As a graduate student in mathematics, I would like to tell you my story about the major challenges that I have faced during my graduate studies in mathematics and how I overcame these challenges to make my success happen. First of all, let me introduce myself. My name is Mohammed Kaabar and I am from Gaza Strip. I studied a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and Bachelor of Science in Mathematics at American University of Sharjah and Washington State University, respectively. Next, I started my graduate studies as a Ph.D. student in Applied Mathematics at Washington State University (WSU).

When I started as a new graduate student, I noticed that I had to do many things to be on time with my teaching and research duties and I did not have enough time to take a rest from the huge amount of required work. In my first semester in graduate school, I took three graduate-level math classes: Applied Analysis, Applied Mathematics I, and Numerical Analysis. These courses took almost all of my time to do their assignments, projects, and exams. I remembered that I had to wake up every day at 6:00 AM to go to the math, science, and engineering library to borrow some books as references for my assignments and projects. Sometimes, I did not find the specific books I needed as references and I had to look at other libraries to request them online to be brought to our university’s library.

During my tutoring at the Math Learning Center at WSU, I have seen many students who struggled with math courses such as introductory linear algebra and differential equations because they had difficulty in understanding the topics in these courses. I felt sorry for those students in these math classes. To help them out, I decided to write two math books titled: A Friendly Introduction to Differential Equations and A First Course in Linear Algebra. I do not claim that my books are the best in mathematics but I can say that they can be good supplemental resources for all math students. Although my time was limited, this motivated me to apply more effort to help my students succeed in my course and other math courses. My advice for graduate students who are interested in writing a math textbook is to look first at your teaching materials and resources. For example, I would say that you can save all your lecture notes from classes you taught before and then you can use whatever you have as a guide for writing your potential textbook. If you write a textbook for a math class, this means that you do not only help your students, but also you help yourself by getting experience publishing in your field of interest because if you are going to apply for a job related to publications and editing, an employer may  look closer at applicants with such experience.

In addition, I realized that some students cannot afford the high costs of math supplemental textbooks, therefore, I decided to support Open Education Resources (OER) Project by providing free soft copies of my math textbooks and free online math courses for universities, community colleges, and other academic institutions to help all students in U.S. and outside U.S. study and learn math for free because I believe that education should be made available free for everyone. To that end, I decided to specify some of my free time to help in writing and reviewing for professional societies and academic institutions. In June 2015, I volunteered to be an editor of this blog and serve on the math editorial board of the Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching (MERLOT II), a program of the California State University System partnering with education institutions, professional societies, and industry. If you’re interested, joining these societies will help you not only express your ideas about teaching, research, and graduate school, but also it will help you get some professional editing experience in your field of study.

In my next post, I will focus on my experience studying for exams and applying for jobs.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me and email me: mkaabar@math.wsu.edu


Kaabar, M. K. A. (2012). Mohammed Kaabar Website, Available at http://www.mohammed-kaabar.net


About Mohammed Kaabar

Mohammed Kaabar is a math faculty member (professor) at Riverside Community College District. He is the author of (A Friendly Introduction to Differential Equations) and (A First Course in Linear Algebra) Books, and his research interests are numerical analysis, differential equations, linear algebra, and real analysis. He is an invited Technical Program Committee (TPC) member in many conferences such as ICECCS 14, ENCINS 15, eQeSS 15, SSCC 15, ICSoEB 15, CCA 14, WSMEAP 14, EECSI 14, JIEEEC 13 and WCEEENG 12. He is a former editor for the American Mathematical Society (AMS) Blog, and he is also a certified peer reviewer and member of the math editorial board at Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching (MERLOT) which is a program of the California State University System partnering with education institutions, professional societies, and industry.
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