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It was as though a higher power was supporting my academic dreams

It was as though a higher power was supporting my academic dreams

I belonged to a poor family. My father was a laborer and had to fend for a large family of 9 children, without the support of parents or siblings. You can imagine how difficult things were for him (he migrated from Afghanistan before the separation of Pakistan from India). We lived in a small hut with no electricity. I also remember that we had four goats in our room.

I completed my education under these conditions but I do remember that I had the crazy idea of becoming a scientist to overcome all of these hardships and lead a better life.

Soon, I got a PhD scholarship for a Japanese university. The early years of my PhD in Japan were quite difficult. I was put up in a guest house that was over 20 km away from the university and I had to change trains to get there. Every day, I would be the last student to leave the university and the first to enter it the next day. Sometimes, while changing trains, I would end up in the same train again, lose my way, and walk about 10 km to reach the university or my room. Eventually, I requested accommodation close to the university, even if the place was small. I got assigned a tiny room called the “tatami room”. I remember this clearly — being tall, I would find it difficult to stretch my legs! But I didn’t care about this because I slept little and was busy working on my PhD.

I managed to complete my PhD in about 2.5 years!

I feel that I have been lucky as far as my academic career is concerned. It was as though there was a higher power supporting my dreams.

This story is an extract from an interview with Prof. Zabta Khan Shinwari, Secretary-General of the Pakistan Academy of Sciences and Chair of the Biotechnology Department of the Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, Pakistan, where Prof. Shinwari talks about his struggles as an aspiring researcher at home and abroad. 

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