My Leeds story - Ahmed

We are extremely proud of the achievements of all our graduating students at Leeds, but especially our Class of 2020, who have completed their studies in such challenging circumstances.

We know that our graduates are keen to make a difference in the world, and each month we shine a spotlight on a Leeds alum who graduated in 2020.

In March, we spoke to Ahmed El Ghazawy, a computer science with artificial intelligence graduate who moved from Egypt to study in Leeds, and was inspired to become a Link to Leeds Ambassador. He shares his Leeds experience, as well as his lockdown learnings.

You can read the stories of more inspiring graduates featured in our My Leeds Story Class of 2020 series, or alternatively, listen to the My Leeds Story podcast series here.

My Leeds story
Ahmed El Ghazawy

Start by telling us how you came to choose to study at the University of Leeds?

When I was looking into studying in the UK, my main criteria were that the university had a high ranking, a good student satisfaction rating, and was in a major city. Safe to say that when I came to Leeds, I felt like it ticked all the boxes.

You were studying in Egypt before you came to Leeds. How does studying in the UK compare?

When I studied at Egypt, I studied computer engineering instead of computer science. You covered a wide range of modules to help decide which fields interested you most. On the other hand, in the UK, I made my decision to study computer science with artificial intelligence (AI) from the moment I arrived – although I was able to change it at any point I wanted.

The major difference beyond that, for me, is that in Egypt they teach you everything you need and explain it until you understand it. In the UK, they teach the basic concepts, but expect you to explore more about it on your own. I personally felt the UK method helped me develop self-learning skills. I was then able to ask my tutors better questions about my findings and engage with what I learn.

What was your experience of living and studying in Leeds like?

My experience in Leeds was random and unexpected in every way possible.

When I first came here, I had no idea where or what anything at the University was. During my Fresher’s week, I had to stay in a B&B in Harehills because I wasn’t aware of the accommodation application deadline. During that week I’d just go to my induction lectures and activities, then finish the exercises I'd been given, then go back to my room. After explaining my situation to the University, they helped me sort some accommodation the week after. But during that first week, I discovered areas of Leeds that most students never see.

After that, I started meeting more people and getting to know more about the University and the LUU, which became a big part of my student life. In my first year, I tried lots of societies (coffeesoc, CompSoc, SalsaSoc, ISoc) to make the most of my student experience. I joined the CompSoc (Computing Society) committee in second year, and in third year I got involved with the Leeds Bhangra Society, a traditional north Indian style of dancing, and became the school representative for the school of computing.

Alongside all this, I was studying, of course. It was a real hands-on experience, where we got to try most things. During the internship part of the course, I realised that we were learning about technologies (object-oriented programming and version control, for example), to a very professional standard – which was great.

You then became a Link to Leeds Ambassador, a scheme giving prospective students the opportunity to talk directly to current students. Tell us about that.

I’ve always felt like many new students (especially international ones) might feel a bit lost and in need of someone to ask for help. I was one of these students, especially before coming to study in Leeds and the UK. As an international applicant, I felt like emailing school staff wouldn’t have been enough to understand how things worked, and the best way would be to contact a student.

I started out by helping show applicants around on open days and telling them more about my own perspective on being a student. Then during my third year I discovered Link to Leeds, and that's when I became an ambassador.

Your final year at Leeds wasn’t quite as you would have imagined it, not being on campus for the last term and being unable to return to campus for your graduation. How was the experience of studying virtually?

The past year has been quite a challenge for everybody. As students, we had to go through a very quick transition to online learning. As difficult as this experience was for the teaching staff, it was also difficult for us too because both sides were still getting acquainted with the techniques and technologies.

But it was also an interesting experience. We were involved in a feedback loop with our module leaders to let them know what we thought of the online teaching and if there were any improvements that could be made.

The biggest downside to not being on campus was missing the day everybody anticipates from the moment they get their acceptance letter; graduation. Many of my friends are international students, so we had made plans for the graduation and Leeds Ball, but that all changed.

Did you manage to do anything with friends or family to celebrate your achievements?

One day I was out and about, and my dad gave me a weird phone call asking me what computer science professionals are called. When I arrived home, I discovered that they’d bought me a gift, decorated the living room and bought me some balloons. They’d been debating what title to write on the congratulations message.

As for my friends, we made our own mini graduation. We rented some gowns and hats and had a photoshoot to remind us of when we were together and worked hard to help each other get to where we are now.

What have you learnt about yourself in lockdown?

During lockdown, a sudden change of lifestyle hit me hard for the first few days, but managed to pull through.

I discovered that when everybody else is going through the same thing, you can all help each other make the most of it instead of all having a hard time on your own.

For instance, some of the most remarkable things during lockdown included attending virtual Fruity with friends, having a Netflix party every single night and discussing the movie in a video call afterwards. We also studied together online and explained things to each other.

" "Everybody is going through hardship at the moment, which means that we’re all in this together."

Ahmed El Ghazawy (MEng Computer Science with Artificial Intelligence 2020)

What have you been up to since you graduated?

Since I graduated, I’ve been helping around the University with different things (such as clearing and virtual open days), as students still need assistance with applications and support. My plans are to keep looking for jobs and internships whilst still working with the University.

What advice would you give to other members of the class of 2020 who haven’t yet found employment or made plans for further study?

The best advice I’d give is what I feel like I’d want someone to tell me: Don’t lose hope.

Everybody is going through hardship at the moment, which means that we’re all in this together. If you’ve made plans for further study, then I wish you luck and hope you enjoy what you’re studying – we all need to be doing something we enjoy these days.

Ahmed's best of Leeds

Favourite place to eat in Leeds:

East Asian restaurants (Thai Aroy Dee, My Thai, Blue Sakura).

Best lunch spot on/near campus:

The common ground with some coffee or outside the LUU if the weather allows it.

Best place to study on campus:

The balcony bits in Laidlaw and Edward Boyle libraries.

Favourite lecture theatre:

Charles Thackrah

Your favourite building on campus:

Leeds University Union

Favourite Yorkshire / Leeds phrase:

It’ll be reet.

Best music venue / bar / club / night in Leeds:

Old Bar & O2

Favourite place you visited in Yorkshire:

York.