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Penn State Law S.J.D. program helps students take education to the next level

Penn State Law S.J.D. alumnus Mohammad Abdulla is now working as a professor in his home country at United Arab Emirates University.
Mohammad Abdulla at his dissertation defense

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Mohammad Abdulla, having learned his love of the law watching his uncle’s work as a prosecutor, has known since his teenage years that his passion lies in the study and teaching of law.

After earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Abdulla had distinguished himself with his knowledge and experience enough to earn a teaching position at his alma mater at the University of Sharjah, but he’d need a doctoral degree in order to achieve his goals—making Penn State Law’s S.J.D. program the perfect choice for him to take his career to the next level.

“The S.J.D. is the highest degree in the field of law, focused on research and teaching,” said Penn State Law professor Thomas Carbonneau, who served as Abdulla’s faculty adviser. “All the S.J.D. students I supervise are first rate, and are examining some of the most pressing issues in the legal field.”

Abdulla’s thesis focused on assessing United Arab Emirates decisional law on arbitration and the growing trend of UAE judges viewing the arbitration process as “competition” for traditional litigation. After detailed research—including translating nearly 80 court cases from Arabic to English, meticulously examining the decisions and judicial reasoning in each, and meeting with judges in the UAE—Abdulla advocates arbitration as a potential and equal alternative that can avoid the costly and time-consuming process of judicial litigation.

“Having Professor Carbonneau as my thesis adviser was wonderful, as he is a leading expert on arbitration and was an incredible resource for my research and my writing—even if, or perhaps because, he gave such critical and tough feedback,” said Abdulla, who is now an assistant professor at United Arab Emirates University. “To also be able to work with and learn from Penn State Law’s distinguished faculty in international law and arbitration was also a great boon, not only for my thesis, but undoubtedly for the rest of my career.”

The S.J.D. program is highly individualized, empowering students to deep-dive into the legal issues and questions that are of the most interest to them and their careers, and revolves around the composition of a lengthy thesis that the student must then defend in a presentation to faculty members and scholars. By helping students advance their knowledge of the law to this level, Carbonneau said the program is of great benefit to students, to Penn State Law, and to the profession as a whole.

“The students in this program are truly excellent, excellent students—people that are going to be at the top of their profession, whether it’s practicing or teaching the law,” Carbonneau said. “To have this program, and to offer this degree, contributes a great deal to this school, to the legal community, and aggrandizes our reputation both abroad and domestically.”

Now that Abdulla has finished and defended his thesis, he looks forward to taking the next step in his career for which Penn State Law has helped prepare him. Having been a part of the S.J.D. program since 2013, shortly after the program was established, he said he was happy to have seen the program blossom over his years at Penn State Law and looks forward to continuing to see the school produce top-tier legal scholars and educators.

“I’m very grateful to Penn State Law,” Abdulla said. “I’m happy to be back home and teaching at the United Arab Emirates University, which I’m able to do because Penn State Law helped make this opportunity a reality.”

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