Alumni Spotlight: Nour Hammad MS’22

A registered dietician and doctoral student, Hammad is starting her path as a researcher by examining food insecurity among graduate students.

Nour Hammad

Nour Hammad at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, where she is pursing a Ph.D. in population health sciences.

By Joan Kimani

Published March 29, 2024, last updated on April 1, 2024 under Alumni Stories

Since coming to the U.S. in 2019, Nour Hammad has been a graduate student at two very prestigious universities. After completing her master’s degree in global health at Duke in 2022, she was accepted to Harvard University, where she is now pursuing a Ph.D. in population health sciences. 

But Hammad has learned that even at such wealthy institutions, many students struggle to make ends meet. In her first research publication at Harvard, she documented food insecurity among graduate students and postdoctoral trainees at the three health-related schools at the university, an issue for which she says there is a paucity of data. 

“The prevalence of food insecurity was stark. Students and postdocs still experience food insecurity in high-resourced institutions," says Hammad, who is a registered dietician. 

Hammad says universities can help address the issue by increasing discounts at school cafeterias or setting up food pantries for students in need. (DGHI, for example, stocks a closet with donated food for graduate students to take.) Schools can also help students apply for government aid such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), she says.

“The best and long-term solution would be to increase the stipends and salaries of students and postdocs, respectively, to match the cost of living in Boston which is very high,” Hammad says.

I chose global health because it has always been my passion to effect change at a population level through developing tailored and evidence-based strategies and interventions.

Nour Hammad — Master of Science in Global Health, 2022

Hammad hoped to take on such broader issues after earning an undergraduate degree in nutrition and dietetics at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon. “I chose global health because it has always been my passion to effect change at a population level through developing tailored and evidence-based strategies and interventions," she explains. I did not want to focus on the food science or clinical side of nutrition. Instead, I aimed to effect change at a population level by developing tailored and evidence-based strategies and interventions."

During her time at Duke, Hammad served as a teaching assistant for biostatistics and worked as a research assistant on a text messaging program aimed at improving WIC-benefit redemption and the diet quality of WIC caregivers – WIC is a U.S. supplemental nutrition assistance program for low-income women, infants and children. As a team, her research group published three research papers.

“I have been acquiring valuable research and teaching experiences throughout my studies. This is crucial for me as my goal is to become a professor in academia. Through teaching and research fellowships, I have gained substantial experience”

But pursuing her goals at Harvard has also been difficult for Hammad, who is Palestinian and has been deeply troubled by Israel’s attacks on Gaza and the plight of Palestinians who are cut off from food and medical aid.. 

“Personally, conducting research in the food insecurity field while watching Palestinians starve to death has me feeling helpless.” She says. 

“I have been away from home for a pretty long time and now it is even tougher given the war in Gaza,” “Although I do not have family or friends in Gaza, my heart is heavy with grief and pain for all residents. As a human, public and global health advocate, and a Palestinian, seeing the injustices and atrocities unfold before my eyes has been difficult to say the least. It is very disheartening to watch countries commit genocides without any accountability,: Hammad explains.

"But it gives me a glimpse of hope to see how the people and fellow colleagues continue to advocate – the hope would be to break these structural systems of oppression and decolonize the nation”, she says.


A fun fact about Hammad: Despite her heavy heart during the difficult time of war, Hammad finds ways to relax by watching movies. She has a collection of old movie tickets dating back to 2012.  “I enjoy preserving the memories associated with each movie in my Hannah Montana memory box," she says.