News & Insights

How Civil Engineer Suhaib Malkawi became a PhD candidate.

09 Nov 22 · People

Suhaib was born to a loving, middle-class family in a small village in Jordan. His mother took care of the house, and his father worked for the Border Force.


“We had a warm house and loving family with four kids. My father had to rely on other jobs beside his main one to support our family, and I helped him with these jobs over the weekend and school holidays from a young age.”

Suhaib and his Father worked in olive farming, carpentry, wood cutting and a charcoal business, which Suhaib remembers as being the toughest with dust hazard the main issue and very poor ventilation.

Suhaib worked in the charcoal business until the start of his final year of school so he could prepare as best he could for his exams. He worked very hard to achieve high marks to give him the education he needed, so he wouldn’t have to resort to physical work anymore.

His hard work paid off, and Suhaib got 95 per cent in his final year of school – the fourth highest mark in his school and the first in his neighbourhood.

“I went to engineering school to please my parents as they hoped that I would become an engineer and I agreed. For me though, I did not feel strongly at that time about any particular field but I didn’t have to pay for my studies because I got a special scholarship given to police and military households because of my Dad’s work.”

Suhaib did civil engineering at University but didn’t love the structure and concrete element – he found it quite static and boring. Water, however, was the only thing that really flowed and captured his attention.
“It was love from my first class! It all started after my first fluid mechanics course with a very special professor. He was very passionate, extremely knowledgeable, and well experienced in water. He has hundreds of publications, a consultancy firm in the US, two PhD degrees, and much more. He loved what he did and I wanted to be just like him.”

In his fourth year of University, Suhaib was chosen to work on a water project with that same professor with a ‘high prestigious institution and sensitive authority.’  He had no idea what to expect. A week later, his professor called him and suggested that Suhaib buy a suit because they were going to the palace of the king. Suhaib thought he was joking and couldn’t believe it when they actually arrived at the palace where they were to work with a team from the Massachusetts Institution for Technology.

“We were guarded at all times and were taken to a very classy restaurant in the capital city. I honestly felt like I was the king myself. This was the moment when I realised I would be working in water forever.”

That same year, Suhaib won a paid internship to India through an exchange program. It was his first time travelling and meeting people from other cultures. He was also able to practice his English and meet people from all over the world. During this period, Suhaib did his first research project in water in a village near Jaipur.

Suhaib came to Australia in 2018 looking for better life and better work opportunities. Despite the fact he had previously worked as a site engineer on a construction site, he was not able to find any employment opportunities in water or engineering.

“I found myself doing physical jobs again! I worked as a glass polisher in a restaurant, a waiter, a cashier in a minimarket and a ‘packie’ on a hydroponic farm. The plan was to work hard – two jobs at a time – and save to do my master’s degree in water.”

In 2021, Suhaib was accepted into a Master of Philosophy Program in Water Engineering at the University of Western Sydney. He kept his casual jobs and did his research at the same time. In fact, his research idea was inspired by the one of his casual jobs. Suhaib is developing a way that hydroponic farms can use their water – and now he is working to improve their systems.

Suhaib found a way to escape the world of hospitality and his other casual jobs, when he came across Sequana Partners and was hired as a Civil Engineer.

“In my very first month with Sequana, I attended our Strategic Horizons Workshop. It all began with the partners, Mike and Frank, greeting me and others so enthusiastically outside. Then at the dinner the night before the workshop, I realised I was in a room full of water experts – I had never been surrounded by that many people so experienced in the water sector before! I had the same feeling as the one I felt when I was in the Palace.”

When Suhaib’s master’s degree was about to finish and he had spent all of his savings on the tuition fees, he was hoping to buy himself some more time to finish his research, so he applied for a scholarship in the hopes that it would cover him financially for the last semester.

It was on his 28th birthday that Suhaib received an email from the university on behalf of the Government congratulating him on being awarded the stipend scholarship.

“Not only was it such a great relief that I wouldn’t have to pay anymore, but in the following week my supervisor spoke to me about upgrading my masters into a PhD. All of my dreams have come true and I am a now PhD candidate, and in less than two years I will be one step closer to being just like that inspiring teacher of mine!”

“I believe with this degree and working with the extremely experienced water experts at Sequana, I will achieve everything I have ever wanted in the water sector. I will be able to sit in a room and discuss important matters that can make the world a better place for us all.”