PhD Success Story - Energy
‘Here, your visa has been approved, have a safe travel to US’, told Visa Officer. Three days later, I collected my passport and almost fell in tears, yes because it was never a smooth ride.
I’m a female from a Pakistani village, which means life is already hard. Somewhere between ‘what would people say’ and ‘how would you survive in susral’, I grew up with strong nerves. I was raised amidst the ‘haww-haye’ culture with “girls are ‘spoiled’ if given education” ideology. Going all the way to city for school (haww-haye), will attend college too (haww-haye), going to University and not getting married instead (haww-haye what kind of parents she got). Even though my parents always supported me but such continued criticism does have an influence.
It was my dream to study at NUST for once, but my parents wanted me to quit since my father had been retired and it was no more affordable. The day I got my admission offer, I felt a new energy within me. Somehow, I managed loans for initial fee instalment, persuaded my parents, secured the admission and later got a fully funded scholarship enough to fund my monthly expenses along with tuition fee (no one haww-hayed though).
I was so passionate about my research and and worked too hard. That passion led me to the Oregon State University as an exchange research scholar. This part I had never imagined in my dream although I had plans to pursue my doctorate degree from abroad. But USA exposure was something beyond expectations and I returned back with more prowess and spirit. I wanted to go back so I started preparing for fulbright (didn’t tell even my mother so that no one could haww-haye). I was called upon for an interview right after the day I defended my thesis securing top grade in research. During the interview, I was so excited that I even told them about my mother not aware of my Fulbright struggles. Few weeks later, I received a letter at home saying, ‘we regret to inform you....’ (HAWW-HAYE, rejected?). I must tell you this version of haww-haye is so humiliating. I decided to ignore again but the spirit was lost somewhere in the corridors of NUST. I felt everyone has moved on and I’m left alone with nothing in hand. I quit working on my research articles, started avoiding gatherings and would watch movies desperately in a hope to refresh my mind. Although my friends encouraged me and provided the moral support I needed, still I couldn’t concentrate at any thing while at home because I was addicted to hostel life. Once again I mustered up my courage and moved to a hostel in Lahore (can’t explain how). I expected a pleasant change in my life but experienced the worst. I found it too difficult to adjust with that environment, away from family and friends, awful private hostels, and financial constraints. I had to give home tuitions to support myself. Another month wasted with international admission deadlines drawing closer. I literally worked day and night, improved my essays, added more to research profile, contacted professors and then finally applied to University of Massachusetts and Southern Illinois University. Here I would like to credit Zaheer Masood (Graduate researcher at SIU) and my best friend Hamza Ahmad Raza, who supported me at each step and helped out of the way.
Expecting to get admits from one of these, I planned that I would go for now, will repeat GRE and then change my school. I wasn’t willing to apply for any school ranked in top 100 in US for I fear of rejection. But Zaheer bhai encouraged me to apply at University of Tennessee too. Phd in energy at UTenn is one of the best energy programs in US, which according to me meant that I don’t stand a chance as I had a low GRE score <300, average BS (2.84) and satisfactory MS grades (3.5). Nevertheless, I filled out the application and I couldn’t believe in my eyes when I received an email asking for my availability time for interview. I appeared for interview, smiling, answering each question confidently and explaining logically and felt them satisfied with my performance. A week later I got my offer letter. I had been selected for their fellowship program which waives my tuition fee and will provide me with a handsome monthly stipend, health insurance and work opportunity at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. They were impressed with my profile as I had a dynamic research background with experience at NUST and OSU, a few MOOCS, social and community work, a few volunteer teaching experiences, 6 conference publications and 3 articles were under review in journals. The program director told me later that he was amazed and excited to see my profile. I was so overwhelmed and realised that this was what I really wanted. I couldn’t be happier with Fulbright. The achievement was extraordinary and I couldn’t believe that hard work finally paid off so beautifully. Today I’m providing free consultation on Scholar Den as a mentor and feel proud that I’m giving back to my country somehow.
For all of you reading this, keep struggling, stay motivated and stay strong. You will have what’s yours at the end so have patience and have faith. Don’t let others demotivate you with their timelines and haww-hayes. At the end it’s you and you only with your struggles and achievements.
Stay in touch with Scholar Den team and take advantage of the services our mentors offer. These guys are like blessing in hard times. I used to read the success stories and often say that someday I’ll be the source of inspiration for many just like these people.
P.S. Take a lot of time and prepare well for a visa photo. Believe me it looks so nice and soothing, watching yourself fresh and beautiful :p