Newcomers enrich science

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  • Area: Other
He had completed several studies, built a flourishing career, but was suddenly forced to flee from his homeland due to war. With great perseverance, Hadi Hasan managed to continue his life and scientific career in the Netherlands. With an NWO grant, he will start working as a researcher at the UMCG.

Hadi Hasan will contribute his knowledge and experience to the ELSA Lab Northern Netherlands (ELSA-NN), a consortium researching responsible development and implementation of artificial intelligence in healthcare. At the same time, he will start a PhD at the Faculty of Law of the University of Groningen (UG).

Academic journey

Born in a Syrian refugee camp where it soon becomes unsafe, Hadi leaves with his parents for Palestine. Soon things become unsettled there too, and as a result of the Palestinian uprisings, schools are often closed. Hadi gets a scholarship that allows him to study political science in Syria. But when war breaks out there too, he has to return to Palestine earlier than expected. He still manages to complete his undergraduate studies and earns not one, but two master's degrees: American and European studies. After graduation, he starts working as a research assistant and project manager at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, and he commits to a peace organisation as a researcher. After several years, problems arise with Hadi's wife's residence permit and she is in danger of being deported to Syria. Therefore, they have to look for a new home.

'Just find something else'

In 2021, he and his wife arrive in the Netherlands where he immediately starts a Dutch language course. Within months, he obtains his B2 certificate and, with a reasonable command of the language, he would like to continue his academic career in the Netherlands. Two hundred e-mails to various agencies in the north of the Netherlands further on, this proves to be quite a challenge. 'I hardly received any responses or I got the reply that there was only room for Ukrainian refugees,' . says Hadi. After a while, he is able to work for the Red Cross, as a site coordinator at several refugee reception centres. He also starts as community manager at VluchtelingenWerk Nederland. 'My goal was to develop myself further and gain more insight into the Dutch working culture. I wanted to understand how people function, how they think.'

Responsible artificial intelligence in healthcare

During his work, Hadi discovers that not everyone has the same access to good healthcare. 'When I heard about the Hestia grant and different projects, I immediately became curious about the ELSA lab. I especially want to help people who may not always have the same opportunities as others.' Within ELSA-NN, Hadi will research the social, economic and political factors affecting immigrants' trust in healthcare, health information and new technological developments such as artificial intelligence. 'I will also investigate discrimination or information deficits. Sometimes newcomers and immigrants misunderstand the Dutch healthcare system, especially if it is different from what they are used to in their homeland.’

Thanks to the close collaboration between ELSA-NN and the Faculty of Law, his research not only serves as a basis for the ELSA lab, but also marks the beginning of a PhD trajectory at the UG. Academic degrees of newcomers, are not always recognised in the Netherlands. This makes it difficult for researchers like Hadi to continue their academic careers here. Mirjam Plantinga, project leader of the ELSA Lab, knows that valuable knowledge and perspectives are sometimes lost as a result. 'Professionals like Hadi enrich Dutch science and society precisely with the expertise they bring. An important focus of our research is to see how the opportunities offered by artificial intelligence can benefit everyone. The composition of our team makes it very difficult for us to access certain target groups, especially migrant groups. We have to deal with cultural and language barriers . That is why we are very happy that Hadi is joining us. He has content expertise, and brings a cultural background and language that we do not yet have in our team.’

A starting point

Following his 'journey' to work at UMCG and UG with the Hestia grant, Hadi has an important message for these and other institutions: 'Give equal opportunities. Education and work at the right level is good for everyone. Every hospital, every university can contribute to that. I have been told countless times that I had no chance to pursue my academic career here. But with hard work and the right contacts, I managed.'

Connection to Dutch research with Hestia grant

Scientists who have had to flee their home countries often encounter obstacles in the countries where they find a safe home, such as language or work culture. This makes it more difficult for them to continue their academic careers. With the call 'Hestia - Impulse for Refugees in Science', NWO wants to offer these academics connections to ongoing Dutch research projects to build a network and enhance their knowledge and skills. The programme also gives them the opportunity to actively share knowledge and skills, to get to know the Dutch science system, with the ultimate goal of continuing the career and/or research line from their home country. These academics enrich Dutch science and society with the expertise they bring.