Headed to Cornell to Study Public Morality in Muslim Countries
A class of ’22 grad shares his steps to a top Ph.D. program.
Mohammed Elfeky (M.A. 22, Middle Eastern Studies) recently returned to his home in Brooklyn after a trip to Egypt and a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. In August, he’ll start a Ph.D. in Near Eastern studies at Cornell University. He hopes to deepen his research into how certain aspects of Islamic ethics are prioritized, conveyed, and communicated through different media. He is especially curious about how popular culture influences and challenges religious discourse in Egypt, and how sound is regulated in that country.
A Brooklyn College graduate, Elfeky received a master’s degree in Islamic studies from Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Doha, Qatar, before coming to the Graduate Center.
In a recent email exchange, he wrote about his master’s degree experience, his advice for aspiring doctoral students, and how the Graduate Center’s Writing Center helped put him on the path to success.
The Graduate Center: You started at the Graduate Center in 2020, in the midst of the pandemic. How did that affect your experience?
Elfeky: As we all know, online learning requires a lot of adjusting and adapting. But I found the professors to be quite effective at encouraging conversations among students from a variety of backgrounds, some of whom had no prior experience studying the Middle East. At the same time, I did not find that the lecturers needed to “dumb things down.” I also liked the Graduate Center's capacity to draw faculty from different CUNY schools, which let me choose from a range of classes as well as study topics that I don't believe would be easily accessible elsewhere, such as studying prison literature in the MENA (Middle East/North Africa) region. I’ve become fascinated by ethnographic research in the MENA region, and it has transformed the way I plan to do research and gain greater exposure to communities.
GC: Why did you seek out the Writing Center services, and how did they help?
Elfeky: I think it's crucial for students to get feedback on their writing. I found the Writing Center to be extremely beneficial, and I strongly recommend that people visit [Senior Writing Consultant] Malkah Bressler, who was always helpful and flexible. I got feedback on a few of my papers and worked on my statement of purpose for college applications. Malkah gave me many pointers and suggestions. The Writing Center really helped me polish and tweak my academic statement, which helped me get accepted to a great doctoral program.
GC: What advice would you give to someone considering a path similar to your own?
Elfeky: I would advise students to seek out intellectual communities that allow for a safe space to experiment and share their ideas. It is sometimes a struggle to pursue topics that might seem a bit obscure to people or a bit detached from their day-to-day struggles. But seeking out these communities allows you to find people who do appreciate the intellectual pursuit of things that are not just based on trending topics.
GC: In a similar vein, if there were one or two things you could go back and tell yourself at the start of your own academic journey, what would they be?
Elfeky: Definitely do not underestimate the value of traveling and investing in finding opportunities to study abroad. Some of the most rewarding interactions have been, for me, spontaneous interactions with people in the region. Also, ease up on the coffee! Lastly, I think it's crucial to really take seriously how important it is to learn the language of the places that you are interested in and how many doors that opens for you as a researcher.
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