Learning about Qatari society at the Academic Research Conference 2014

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the Academic Research Conference 2014 at the Qatar National Convention Center. Hosted by Qatar Foundation, the conference is considered “a unique platform to activate multidisciplinary knowledge sharing and collaboration needed to tackle the most pressing national challenges in research, as well as bolster Qatar’s research and development sector”. And indeed, visiting several sessions in the Social Sciences stream throughout the conference, I gained interesting insights into current issues in Qatari society I would normally not get to talk about with colleagues or people in the public. Among others, this included challenges within the educational system, the engagement of GCC nationals and expats at their workplace, Qatari marriage practices and miscarriage among Qatari women. I thought to share these with you as the most interesting talks I heard along with a selection of posters from the poster sessoin. Living in Doha for almost a year, I am still learning a lot about local culture. The two days at ARC definitely added some valuable perspectives to this process.

Day 1 | 11:00 – 12:15 Four Parallel Invited Presentation Sessions | Social Sciences

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Among the three presentations, the one entitled “Youth aspiration and motivation in Qatar: Evidence from education surveys“ was the most interesting one for me. Dr. Darwish Al-Emadi from the Social and Economic Research Institute at Qatar University presented the findings of a survey conducted at independent schools with students, parents and school admins. The results revealed a chronic motivation problem among students in both their preparatory and secondary phase. Students generally felt that Math, Science, Arabic and English classes are important for their future, although they provided a more diverse feedback about this at the end of their school life. Asked about planned occupations in the future, major groups were indicating the business and military sector, whereas very few chose healthcare, education, arts and other areas. In addition, many students don’t see their future career in the knowledge society, which, according to the presenter, should be considered very problematic for achieving Qatar’s national vision.20141118_111839Overall, Al-Emadi was concerned and skeptical about the future of the educational system in Qatar in its current state. Unfortunately though, he did only describe the status quo and did not provide any suggestions for solutions to tackle the problems addressed.

Day 1 | 15:15 – 17:00 Four Parallel Abstract Presentation Sessions | Social Sciences

In her presentation “Motherhood Lost: Women, miscarriage, and birds in heaven in Qatar”, Susie Kilshaw from the University College London provided some fascinating insights into the situation of Qatari women who experience a miscarriage. The larger project had been conducted with both Qatari and UK women, while following a mix of anthropological and medical approaches to provide a broader context. As for Qatar, according to Kilshaw, procreation is considered to be one the most important pillars of society. The total fertility rate of Qatari women is one of the highest in the Arab Gulf States, with an average age of 23 years of Qatari women at their first marriage. The following statement by one of the participants in the study shows the ongoing stigmatization that Qatari women often have to face when experiencing a miscarriage: “Yes, of course! …they look at her as if she has something missing …I don’t know how to explain this but they look at her as if she has a problem of a defect that prevents her from getting pregnant or as if she has been cursed by an evil eye (so is it her fault?) sort of because the normal thing is that the woman gets pregnant and then has her baby.” The second part of the presentation focused on another phenomenon referred to as “birds in heaven”. Interestingly, the researchers came along this metaphor of hope several times when talking to Qatari women as well as their physicians:

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Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar from Northwestern University Qatar, author of a number of novels related to the region and editor of several essay anthologies such as Qatari Voices, presented findings of a study dedicated to Qatari marriage practices (Contemporary Qatari Marriage Practices: Education And Marriageability For Modern Qatari Women). Using both qualitative and quantitative research approaches, the study examined the potential impact of the level of Qatari women’s education on their plans for marriage. An online survey had been conducted among 355 female Qatari participants that included participants aged 18 to 25+ at Qatar University, Qatar Foundation branch campuses and the Community College Doha. In addition, the researchers had the possibility to facilitate focus groups as well as individual interviews and to examine 50 marriage contracts. Overall, the findings suggest a broad variation among women within Qatari society when it comes to their choices of marriage and education. Young Qatari women are expected to be educated and married, but, at the same time, the age of marriage among Qatari women is clearly rising over the past three generations. Enriched with several interesting anecdotes, the presentation also highlighted some statements of participants to illustrate the results.

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Rajakumar concluded that marriage in Qatar and the perceptions among men and women is a very complex research topic. The study can only be seen as a starting point, as there are still many potential areas for future research such as the view of Qatari men on marriage.

Day 2 | 11:30 – 13:30 Four Parallel Abstract Presentation Sessions | Social Sciences

David Barrie Jones from The Talent Enterprise in the UAE presented findings from a longterm study on engagement and productivity of GCC national and expats at their workplace (Engagement and Productivity: What are the Key Drivers for GCC Nationals and Expatriates? Findings & Implications The Largest GCC Workplace Study Ever Conducted – A Longitudinal Study 2010 – 2012). While the concept of ‘engagement’ remained a bit vague, the results showed some interesting tendencies:

  • Whilst Qatari nationals were the most engaged, GCC nationals are consistency and significantly less engaged than their expatriate counter-parts in their home countries.
  • The younger generation of nationals is significantly less engaged with their work than the older generation.
  • There has been a statistically significant decline in youth engagement (age under 25) from 2010 to 2012.
  • Surprisingly, amongst all age groups, those under the age of 25 and especially those in the 25 to 34 year age groups report the lowest level of acceptance with diversity in the workplace.
  • Those workers under the age of 34 are experiencing an “early mid-career crisis” compared with their peers elsewhere in the world.
  • Average levels of employee engagement are higher in the private sector, rather than in the public sector.
  • GCC nationals report better relationships with their managers in the private sector, greater development opportunities and a more dynamic workplace.
  • GCC national women are significantly more comfortable than their male counterparts in a diverse working environment.

One slide that resonated with me in particular, was showing the ten top and bottom strengths of GCC Youth. Among the bottom strengths, flexibility, curiosity and empathy ranked very high. Much as the findings in the talk about challenges in the educational system above, this must be seen as a warning sign for the development of human capacity in the region in upcoming years. Thus, Jones concluded with a call for action to tackle this and other challenges:

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(–> further readings as suggested on the slide above: The Edge – Is the future female? | The Edge – Qatar: The new talent realities | Unlocking the paradox of plenty – A review of the talent landscape in the Arab world and your role in shaping the future)

Poster Session

Apart from the paper presentations, the poster session featured a number of interesting projects, for me, again, mostly in the Social Sciences section. Below is a selection of posters that caught my attention:

Social Media as a Source of Unbiased News20141119_130425(0)-1

Borrowed Words in Qatari Dialect

Preserving and Improving Traditional Built Environments in Doha: The case of Old-Mushaireb area

Politicization of migrants as seen on Twitter

20141119_130009(0)-1Mathaf Encyclopedia of Modern Art and the Arab World (website of encyclopedia)

Digitizing and Indexing Arabic Historical Manuscripts in Qatar

A20141119_130104-1nalytical Database of Arabic Poetry

Qatar Olympic Participation (1984-2012) – Creating a national representation through sport

Building Tools for Dietary Health Monitoring: Studying Food Consumption Through Twitter

Beliefs about Jinn, Black Magic & Evil Eye among Muslim Nursing Students at University of Calgary in Qatar (UCQ)

Doha Recap #2 – looking back at my first six months in Doha

It has been a while since I shared some early impressions about Doha shortly after my arrival in February. Living here for almost half a year now, I felt it was high time for the second part of my recap podcast! In this episode, I talk about what has been going on at work during the last couple of months, about how it feels to live in this city and what kind of cultural activities I did explore so far. You will learn more about the infamous Doha traffic, get a weather update and hear what people over here do during the ongoing summer break. If you want to have an actual look at what I talk about, check out my flickr account with lots of pictures from here. Hope you enjoy the recap!

Please let me know your thoughts on this second episode. I am happy for any comments and questions!

20th SLA AGC Conference, storified

From 25-27 March, I was lucky to attend the 20th Conference of the SLA Arabian Gulf Chapter that was located in the beautiful Ritz Carlton Doha. Under the major theme “Enhancing the Digital Knowledge Society’s Information Needs”, the program included several keynotes, regular sessions and plenary sessions with both international speakers and presenters from the GCC region. Part of the conference was also an exhibition area with many international companies (mostly publishing houses), several product presentations in the main program, some library tours during the day and social dinners in the evenings. I very much enjoyed the three days, attending several of the sessions, being at the QNL booth with my colleagues, and making many new contacts along the way! What I really liked was the good mix of regional and international guests and presentations. Also, with up to two parallel streams, the size of the event was quite enjoyable and not too overwhelming. As for the language of the conference, all sessions were hold either in English or Arabic, both with simultaneous interpretation. Apart from the Recitation from the Holy Koran at the start of the opening session (which happens at many official events here), I could not spot any other differences to conferences outside of the MENA region I have attended over the past years. To give you a better idea about the look and feel of the conference and a closer look at some of the presentations, I have created a summary of my #slaagc2014 experience on storify that follows all the sessions I attended. Enjoy!

#slaagc2014, storyfied

Doha’s ever-changing face

One of Doha’s major landmarks is its impressive skyline. In comparison to other metropolises around the world, a remarkable detail about it is the fast pace with which it is changing. Permanent (re)construction and growth is a distinct feature of Qatar’s capital and there is no better place to follow this as by looking at the skyline over time (here is the picture I used for an earlier post which is from 2007, see the huge difference)! As a result of this, by the way, it seems to be really difficult to get recent post cards showing the skyline. So you better take your camera and shoot some pictures by yourself!

A taste of traditional Arabic music at Souq Waqif

Last weekend, I got to see Souq Waqif, one of the main attractions of Doha. The historic market area has been restored recently which means you will find lots of picturesque alleys and buildings. On the other hand, with its many souvenir shops, restaurants and modern relics such as wood paneled ATMs, the souq also seemed quite touristy and artificial to me. But being aware of the restauration, you can still enjoy the area. Certainly, one big plus is that this is one of the rare places in Doha that lets you take longer walks outside without many cars around.

By far the best part of my visit happened in the evening when I could listen to some live Arabic music. I had only heard some short bits of traditional music on the radio so far, so this was my first time at a live concert. I am still at the very beginning of learning about traditional Arabic music, its tone system, the maqam andparticular music instruments. But even without much background knowledge, it was very interesting for me to listen to the concert and to study the musicians, their instruments and the audience.

Besides the arrangement of the stage and musicians, the most fascinating part for me was the effect of the music on me as an unexperienced listener. I am a frequent concertgoer and have a direct approach to various styles of Western music from classical music to minimal techno. But in this very case, the music had no immediate emotional or physical effect on me. This does not mean I did not appreciate what I heard. I think it rather shows that I was yet unable to deal with the different tone scales and rhythmic patterns which, as a result, didn’t let me get into a certain flow while listening to the music. It will be very interesting to see how this will change over time (I am pretty sure it will!). Thinking about other experiences I have made so far, I am wondering if it will be a similar process as with getting used to free and more complex forms of jazz which also took me some time. I am definitely looking forward to listening to more Arabic music and also to learning more about its theoretical background and tradtion! So maybe, at some future point, I will even start dancing when I listen to it like some of the locals in the audience did on that evening at Souq Waqif.

Doha Recap #1 – podcast about my first two weeks in Doha

It is time to look back at my first two weeks in Doha! Instead of presenting you a long text to go through, I decided to go for a podcast and talk about my experiences so far, so you could actually listen to me. In this first recap, you will hear about my workplace, my apartment and neighborhood, traffic in Doha, food and shopping, some sightseeing and more. Also, make sure to check out my flickr profile with pictures of most of what I mention.

Please let me know what you think about this kind of recap and if you prefer this to a standard blog post. It still takes quite some time to prepare everything, but I’d be happy to go on with this!

It’s happening, I am moving to Qatar!

Some of you already got the news back in November through Facebook and Twitter, but now it is getting serious: In less than two weeks, I am going to move to Doha, Qatar! My first full-time position as a new grad will take me to Qatar National Library where I will start working as a Music Information Service Librarian.

As you can imagine, I am absolutely excited and look forward to this experience, not only for becoming a part of this fascinating library project, but also for getting to know life and culture of the Gulf region!

As soon as I have settled in, I will try to report about my abroad experience on a regular basis. Meanwhile, check my tweets for the latest updates.

Talk to you soon from Doha!