Nour Aldossari becomes first Saudi to earn PhD in soil microbiology

July 06, 2021

Dr. Nour Aldossari is the first Saudi to earn a doctorate degree in soil microbiology; he defended his thesis in May. This accomplishment was highlighted by the popular Arabic language website and social media accounts First Saudi.

Aldossari says he is “pleased and honored” to be the first, and he hopes to be a role model for other Saudis with a passion for science. 

After First Saudi shared the post with their 285,000 followers, Aldossari began receiving messages of support and congratulations; he also had people asking how he got to where he is, and for advice on how they could do it too: “They want a guide. They want to be like me but they don’t know how.”

Aldossari was born in Saudi Arabia to an Egyptian mother and a Saudi father. When he was a child, Aldossari was fascinated by fruit succumbing to mold; he would save his moldy specimens in bottles and watch them change over time. Now as a microbiologist, he cultures mold and other microorganisms in petri dishes in the lab.

His education in Saudi Arabia was traditional, and he wasn’t exposed to mentors or science in practice. However, Aldossari’s family would visit Egypt in the summer, and while he was there he would go out of his way to talk to scientists; he wanted to understand if the reality of being a scientist matched up with what he was reading in textbooks. Those conversations inspired him to continue on his path as a scientist. He earned his undergraduate degree in biological science from King Faisal University in Saudi Arabia and then went on to pursue a master’s in microbiology at Ain Shams University in Egypt. 

Earning a doctorate degree has been Aldossari’s goal since he was in high school. In science classes and textbooks, he would read about doctors and professors doing science and wanted to be one of them. 

Aldossari moved to the U.S. to improve his English and continue his pursuit of science. He volunteered in Prof. Satoshi Ishii’s lab: “I was looking for labs to adopt me,” he recalls. Later he was awarded a scholarship from Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission to study the beneficial characteristics of fungi.

When he joined the graduate program in Land and Atmospheric Science, Aldossari was advised by Ishii and Prof. Brandy Toner. His research involved isolating fungi from the environment that have the ability to remove nitrate from agricultural waste water. These fungi can be added to woodchip bioreactors that filter excess water from the soil before it enters a lake or stream. An added benefit is that the fungi can survive at low temperatures, down to 41° F (5° C). 

In addition to his research, Aldossari was involved in the university community: “My four years at the Department of Soil, Water, and Climate provided me with a unique opportunity to enhance my academic knowledge and skills… Our department is diverse, so I was honored to organize EAT Night to get to know other students and faculty from different cultures, different countries.” In the summer of 2020, he was involved in the diversity, equity, and inclusion “roadmap” process undertaken by SWAC under the leadership of Prof. Toner. “I learned about discrimination, and how I can deal with it and help other people deal with it. Thank you Prof. Toner for this opportunity and your support,” says Aldossari.

Now that he has graduated, Aldossari wants to continue in academia. “I want to prove my theory,” he says with a laugh. He is applying for postdoc and faculty positions. “I want to learn more, and to teach a lot of people.” He also hopes to find ways to inspire young people from Saudi Arabia, the Middle East, and around the world to pursue their interests in science.