A decade-long journey at UBC Engineering

“It is only when you challenge everything you learn that new discoveries can be made.”

Abdullah Al-Digs on the UBC Campus

Abdullah Al-Digs

  • Degree: Doctor of Philosophy
  • Grad year: 2021
  • Program: Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Campus: Vancouver

Growing up, I would watch my father express his passion over his work in electrical engineering. When I was 13 years old, I had the opportunity to visit the world's largest manufacturing facility for medium-voltage vacuum interrupters and circuit breakers in Ratingen, Germany. I gained a substantial know-how about the industrial and type testing processes. Soon enough, I came to understand the growing demand for energy and the role of electricity and electrical engineers in meeting that demand. Subsequently, acquiring an electrical engineering degree became my goal. Consequently, I received my B.A.Sc. degree in electrical engineering (Power and Energy option) from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver in 2015. Shortly after, I pursued a Ph.D. degree from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UBC to satisfy my curiosity for research which I completed in 2021. My research focuses on developing analytical models and algorithmic methods for operational monitoring and control tasks that ensure reliable and efficient operation of electric power systems.

Why did you choose to go into your field of study at UBC?

I was particularly keen to study at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UBC because of their various research interests and their reputation of excellence in these fields. The domestic and international reputation of this premier institution attracts such a variety of students which I believe was a stimulating environment in which to study at a doctoral level. Furthermore, the presence of highly venerated faculty members such as Professors Jose Marti, Hermann Dommel, and Christine Chen is a source of inspiration for me to contribute to the field in a greater capacity. I firmly believe that attending UBC has enabled me to gain in-depth knowledge and prepared me for my future career path by providing me with the ability to apply acquired expertise to practical problems in modern day power systems.

What has made your time at UBC memorable?

One of the most valuable outcomes of my experience as a graduate student is discovering my passion for teaching. My passion and enthusiasm for teaching lead me to pursue every opportunity available to teach. The appreciation and support from students which lead to receiving the prestigious Killam Graduate Teaching Assistant Award was extremely fulfilling and encouraged me to consider teaching as a career path.

Tell us about your experience in your program. What have you learned that is most valuable?

My experiences as a graduate student have made me a confident and independent researcher. I have gained an abundance of practical experiences in a number of various fields. Specifically, areas relating to power system operation, monitoring, and control, where I came to understand what other researchers are achieving and how my research complements their work. The most valuable skill I learned throughout my graduate studies is how to kill my ideas quickly. This seemingly counterintuitive approach is how I was able to gain the most out of my research experience. The worst possible outcome for a researcher is to waste too much time on an idea that leads nowhere. Sometimes, this unavoidable and it is part of research.

What advice would you give a student entering your degree program?

The experience of being a graduate student can be greatly rewarding. I would advise students to familiarize themselves with the countless opportunities available at UBC to explore new things, participate in various clubs/organizations, and most importantly, professional development workshops and seminars. As a graduate student, it is very important to know what you want out of your graduate degree and to enjoy the journey towards your goal. Your schedule will be flexible, so take advantage of that to acquire new skills. A few skills I find to be essential for effective research are time management, idea presentation, and writing.

Where do you find your inspiration for using your degree to make an impact on our world?

I am inspired by everyone around me at UBC. Over the past 10 years, I have had countless interactions with students from different fields and made very close friends along the way. Each interaction has been a learning experience and inspired me to learn more about different areas far from my field of study. However, I am most inspired by my research supervisor’s dedication and passion for research which has definitely rubbed off on me.

What are your future plans to make a difference in our world?

Modern electric power systems are undergoing dramatic changes due to heterogeneity in electricity sources, such as energy-storage devices, fuel cells, and renewable generation. Renewable generation introduces levels of variability and uncertainty that are unprecedented in conventional power systems. I hope to leverage the skills that I have developed at my time at UBC to develop analytically tractable and computationally efficient operational schemes to achieve reliable and cost-effective electrical power systems with improved stability, efficiency, and environmental footprint.

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