Spring 2013 Scholarship Finalist: Zujajah Malik

Zujajah Malik from Pakistan studying at the University of Toronto Scarborough is our last finalist for the International Student Voice Magazine scholarship. Read her essay here!

At some point or another, every person wants to leave the nest and spread their wings to explore the boundless opportunities this world has to offer. I was no different and even as a child I was very inquisitive and ambitious. When I was in sixth grade my grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and rest of my childhood was spent watching his condition deteriorate progressively. As I grew up and learnt more about the complicated disease I realized that I was strongly interested in research, particularly in Alzheimer’s disease. Like any other Alzheimer’s patient my grandfather succumbed to the disease but his death had aroused in me a strong inclination towards neurobiology.

As I saw his cognitive abilities diminish with the passing years, I used to dig through research and information available online regarding Alzheimer’s but results were disappointing. Almost every clinical trial was discontinued or did not work. However, it left me with a burning desire to get to the bottom of it. Unfortunately in Pakistan research is not given much importance and anyone interested in pursuing a career in research is considered destined for unemployment. The traditional mindset about either becoming a doctor or engineer hadn’t change when it was time for me to start looking into colleges and universities. My goal was to find a career in research and that’s why I turned my attention to universities abroad which housed a well-acknowledged research faculty and had an outstanding research stream. For my career, I didn’t see myself as wearing stethoscope and checking pulses every half hour. Monotony is the last thing I want in life and that is why I am so attracted towards research because it provides the opportunity to explore something new and different every day. Studying abroad can make it possible for me to pursue my chosen career path.

Apart from this, I wanted an academic environment where I will be credit based on my skills and solely on my skills and money in my father’s bank account will not affect my grades or behaviour of my peers towards me. I have always been very hard working since childhood and I do not want my hard work to go to waste and someone else to climb the ladder of success without having earned it. Studying in Toronto has allowed me to get what I deserve, that is a fair treatment. Moreover, a study aboard experience is highly valued by employers anywhere in the world; particularly North American education has high return value.

Studying in a university abroad has provided me with the opportunity of experiential learning where I learn by doing and realizing my mistakes. It is different than the read-and-learn methodology back home. It not only stimulates my interest in learning but also helps me to reflect on my strengths and weaknesses and makes me a better learner. I am able to generate process and analyse the data which I had only witnessed as textbook examples. My friends back home still read those concepts off textbooks while I can synthesize pharmacologically relevant compounds and perform a structural characterization using infrared and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy. My goal was to develop knowledge of concepts outside the textbook and studying abroad has made it possible because of the open minded teaching and learning methods. The opportunities for growth are just boundless.

Moreover, my goal was to become a well rounded person, develop interpersonal skills, and team work and communication abilities. I have been able to reach close to this goal by studying in a diverse multicultural society like Toronto where I have ample opportunities to interact and participate in extracurricular activities alongside managing my academics. Here I have written a research paper on “Genetic Mechanisms underlying Alzheimer’s disease” supervised by Dr. Ashok and I also work as vice president of UNICEF on campus. This kind of balanced environment was not available to me back home where a student is loaded with books to memorize.

Studying abroad has also made me more independent and responsible. I am no longer nursed by my parents. I am no longer bound by the chains of society that tighten their grip as soon as the girl turns 20 and start pushing her towards getting married and rearing infants. I have grown emotionally and professionally. I am able to make decisions for myself and live my life by my rules. Being independent and confident of one’s abilities is an asset which I can not only implicate in my professional life but in any sphere and it is bound to direct me towards success.

University of Toronto has made it possible for me to get really close to my dream and after graduation I see myself working as a grad student in the Center for Neurobiology and Stress at University of Toronto Scarborough campus, trying to work my way through the genetic and biochemical aspects of Alzheimer’s disease.

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