Recent alumnus pursues passion for geosciences research

Contact: Elena Meadows
Dr. Mohammed Hashim in his lab

Dr. Mohammed Hashim researches microcrystalline calcites in his lab at Western.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—From a child growing up in Iraq, interested in geology, science and biology, Dr. Mohammed Hashim has become an award-winning researcher as well as a caring and inclusive teacher with a newly-minted Ph.D. from Western Michigan University’s Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences.

Hashim, who earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Baghdad, came to Western as a master’s student with an interest in the petroleum industry. But Dr. Stephen Kaczmarek’s class in carbonate petrology—which examines the origin of carbonate rocks—fascinated him. He switched to doctoral studies with Kaczmarek as his advisor.

From his dissertation study, “Experimental insights into the origin of microcrystalline calcites,” the pair have already published five peer-reviewed papers with another one just accepted. 

“Mohammed is one of the brightest young geoscientists in the country,” says Kaczmarek. “He is academically talented, naturally inquisitive and an extremely productive researcher. His dissertation represents an original and impactful academic contribution to the geosciences that crosses traditional disciplinary boundaries.” 

During his time at Western, Hashim received a Schlanger Ocean Drilling Fellowship from the U.S. Science Support Program. This highly competitive award funded the last year of his Ph.D. studies, and in July 2022, he presented his research in New York City at the annual meeting of the United States Advisory Committee for Scientific Ocean Drilling. 

Hashim’s other accolades include being named Western’s institutional nominee for the Council of Graduate School’s Dissertation Award in the Mathematics, Physical Sciences and Engineering category; receiving the Outstanding Student Presentation Award at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting; and being selected for the Best Student Talk Award in the Ph.D. category at the Midwest Geobiology Symposium. 

He now holds a postdoctoral fellowship at the world-famous Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, where he is focusing on ocean chemistry and Earth history and building on the findings and knowledge he gained while completing his Ph.D. at Western. 

Hashim’s life journey began on the other side of the world. While times were difficult in Iraq and educational opportunities generally limited, these two factors played a major role in his career trajectory. 

“The first is the fact that education is free in Iraq, including going to college,” says Hashim. “Even though the quality of education in Iraq is not comparable to that in the U.S., it was still a great opportunity because it allowed students from low- and middle-class backgrounds, including myself, to attend school and earn a college degree without accumulating large amounts of student debts.” 

“The second opportunity was related to the fact that Iraq is an oil-rich country, which helped me find a job in the oil industry. Although I ended up leaving this industry and decided to go back to graduate school, I feel that I got lucky in that my job allowed me to learn a lot, travel the world and live in a new country.” 

He chose to move to the U.S. out of a desire to live in a country where not believing in any religion is not a crime but instead is accepted by society and protected by law. His experiences witnessing bias and discrimination against minority groups made him acutely aware of the need for attention to issues of equity and inclusion. 

“During my graduate studies, I became committed to addressing these issues in my teaching and research,” Hashim says. “I learned that there are so many things that we can do to enhance diversity, improve students’ experiences, broaden access to science, and create a welcoming and inclusive environment. I try to address important issues such as imposter syndrome, stereo- type threat, implicit bias and belongingness uncertainty.” 

Kaczmarek calls Hashim a natural leader who raises expectations for everyone around him, a generous and patient teacher, and one who respects and fosters diversity in his personal and professional life. 

“He understands first-hand the challenges and barriers that underrepresented groups face in the world, and he helps those less fortunate,” Kaczmarek says.

Beyond his postdoc, Hashim hopes to pursue opportunities that allow him to continue scientific research, as well as mentor and encourage a new generation of scientists.

This story is published as part of the College of Arts and Sciences Annual Magazine—view the 2022 Magazine online.