“SNOWFALL”, this word gives many people goose bumps and why not, it’s one of the most fascinating gifts of nature. The sheer beauty of the first snow is beyond description; the way those snowflakes drift down in slo-mo and create some captivating work of art, covering the imperfections of our planet and making it look flawless. Be it going out and building a snowman, or standing next to your window and looking at the beautiful white carpet in your lawn, snowfall is just phenomenal in every single way you want to experience it.
It was that day of the winter, which had the snow forecast; I just got excited like a child and couldn’t wait for it. When the magic finally happened, I went out to experience it and a smile appeared not only on my face, but also in my heart. On that wonderful day, listening to the inspiring story of a girl who has passion for science and who took a stand against the boundaries set for women by her surroundings was the icing on the cake. Before we jump into the deep water and get to know the hurdles of this girl’s academic journey and how she beat the odds to win a scholarship to study abroad in Germany, let’s start this conversation on a lighter note.
So Sania, it’s your first snowfall in Germany? How’re you feeling about it?
Nature has always captivated me and experiencing this natural phenomenon for the first time was simply extraordinary. Everything covered with snow! It seems like entirely a new world and watching snowflakes floating in the air is a delightful sight. I thank God for showing me one of His countless blessings and fulfilling my wish.
And how is your research going on? Do you like the work place? You’re doing a PhD in Biology, right?
Research is all about repetition and troubleshooting of experimentation and it is never easy. Working in Germany is challenging yet stress-free. I don’t have to worry about shortage of reagents even when I’m failing my experiments again and again. My research is to investigate the microbial communities of the Monte San Giorgio Mountain. The key questions to answer are: how microbial communities degrade complex organic components and contribute to oil degradation and carbon cycle.
And why Germany? What options did you have?
Well, I had two options, either to go to Japan or Germany. I was privileged to be selected for both MEXT Japan and DAAD Germany doctoral scholarships. I chose Germany because my research project was closely related to my research interests that are Geo-mining, Bioleaching, Bioremediation and Metagenomics.
Ahan! So you’re a proud winner of DAAD scholarship. Besides those gold medals during bachelor’s and master’s degree; what, do you think, made your application stand out?
Being in top 10 out of 13000 applicants was really tough. Job and lab experience were the missing ingredients from my profile, so after my master’s degree in Pakistan, I started to work as a research assistant at National University of Science and Technology (NUST) and as a visiting faulty at Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU). With those academic gold medals, the work experience not only enhanced my CV but also gave me key skills of confidence and leadership.
Sounds good! And you’ve been working as a guest lecturer as well, how was the experience of being on that end of the lecture hall?
It was quite interesting; I realized how being students, we take everything for granted. Lack of discipline and commitment from students, shows that our education system could only survive on spoon-feeding. Most of the times, teachers force knowledge onto students and apparently they do so for the betterment of the students because if they don’t, majority of the students just won’t take their studies seriously. I believe it would be good if students could develop independent and enthusiastic approach towards studies and research.
Well said! So, now the most important question related to your study abroad adventure. How was it like to convince people around you that you wanted to pursue your PhD abroad?
Well, I’m from a very humble background. I can still remember the times when I told my mother that I got admission in Islamabad (the capital of Pakistan that is roughly 200 km from my hometown) and she was like yeah but Islamabad is far away and you’ll be completely on your own. My elder sister convinced our parents to let me go to another city for my bachelor’s degree. I must say that she is the one who actually broke all the stereotypes, challenged the norms and took a stand for us. My elder sister went to the UK for her higher education in Physics, my younger sister went to Hungary for her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and I was waiting for my scholarship announcement. So yeah! Going abroad for PhD was not that tough as going to another city for my bachelor studies.
C’mon, you just made it look easy, I’m sure it’s not that simple. On to the next question, tell me when and how did you develop your interest for science and what was the first step towards the pursuit of your dream?
During our childhood, my elder sister and I were greatly inspired from this TV show based on scientific phenomena, Israary-e-Jahan, hosted by Pervez Hoodbhoy. Impressed by the scientific explanation of universe and life, my sister decided to become a physicist and I opted for biology. It ignited the spark and we never lost sight of our respective dreams. I still remember my classroom in 2007, high school (FSc) in pre-medical, when our teacher asked who amongst the students wanted to be medical doctor. Every single hand in the class went up except for mine. After my FSc, I got selected for MBBS in Army Medical College (AMC), a well reputed medical college that’s on everyone’s list, and I also secured a position in BSc Applied Bio-science at NUST. The decision was easy, I went for the later and pursued my BSc in Applied Bio-science because I knew my true calling and that was to become a scientist rather than a medical doctor.
Quite a brave move I’d say. And do you think all that struggle has paid off? Was it worth it?
Ahh! Life is a constant struggle and I think I’m not done yet. But yeah! The more I thrive, the bigger is the reward. My eyes are not just on Phd but I also want to see a better self every day in the mirror compared to the day before. I believe if we stop struggling and things become too easy then there is no progress. For people, struggle is about a stable career but for me it represents a spiritual value. I want to be able to understand the holy scriptures of life and science, I believe, is the holy language of God.
And how’s life in Germany for an international female student from Pakistan?
Well, it has been a good experience so far. Compared to back home, no one is there to cook for you or to drop you to university. You have to manage everything by yourself. One more thing, it’s much safer to travel alone. Work is very organized and demands dedication. I’m learning the language and exploring the culture. I obviously do miss my family and friends from back home but I’m getting used to this new place.
How does your daily routine looks like?
Room – Kitchen – LAB, the loop continues.
It’s not very thrilling at the moment as I’m new here and you may think that it’s probably boring but let me put it this way; I’m working to realize my dream and changing any dream into reality demands hard work and commitment. You have to always give your one hundred percentage if you want to make it happen.
That’s very true. Moving on, what are your future goals?
My future goals are never-ending; I will continue learning and will proceed to Post-doc after working for some time in academia or industry. Let’s see what life has in store but I am highly motivated to travel and explore different cultures in addition to pursuing my academic career.
And you like playing cricket and table tennis, right? You’ve decided to give a message to the world, especially to the girls of developing countries, that women can participate and actually excel not only at academics but also at other fields.
Yes, exactly. I don’t know why our society is so afraid of women empowerment. Isn’t it the best thing that could happen when women are educated and multitalented! An educated woman will not only contribute to the economic growth and social welfare, but she is also likely to become a good friend and advisor for the next generation. I’m not comparing men and women and it’s not about superiority, it’s about skills and talent and both men and women can become their best selves.
That’s very insightful. To sum up, what advice would you give to the women around the world, who are struggling to fight for their rights particularly for education?
My advice to everyone is to dream big. It’s very important to think about your true calling. Everything starts with a positive thought. With the social pressures, it is not easy to emerge as a powerful spout unless you seed yourself with the power of integrity, believe and determination. Listen to everyone, appreciate the compliments and use criticism for self-analysis instead of taking it personally. We stop growing, when we stop looking at our flaws. Another important point: thrive to excel but don’t waste your energies demolishing others. We all can be winners if we nourish and motivate each other. Let’s make this world a beautiful place and this life full of love and peace.
You ended it on a great note Sania. I thank you for your valuable time and wish you all the best with your research and future goals. Stay blessed and keep smiling.
In this post, personal views and opinions are expressed. The purpose of the content is to share the experience of a student, and not to offend anyone. If you’ve any questions or feedback, please let me know in the comments section below.