Thursday, December 15, 2011

Zainab Bashir, an NOP graduate, has been awarded a scholarship to pursue her Masters studies at the University of Oxford. Zainab is a BSc 2011 graduate who majored in Social Sciences. 

Zainab’s education at LUMS was jointly supported by the National Outreach Programme (NOP) and Syeda Ghulam Batool Fund. She graduated amongst the top 20 students with a CGPA of 3.74 and received an admission offer from the University of Oxford for an MSc in Social Anthropology. While Zainab was considering her funding options, the Oxford Graduate Admissions and Funding Office offered her the Noon Educational Foundation-University of Oxford Scholarship to support her studies. The scholarship covers full university and college fee as well as all living expenses for the one-year Masters programme. The total value of the scholarship is around GBP 30,340.

Zainab is the first NOP graduate to get admitted to the University of Oxford and study at one of the world’s best social anthropology schools.

How did you hear about the National Outreach Programme (NOP)?

Zainab:  My brother’s friend was studying at LUMS and he suggested that if I want to apply to the LUMS BSc programme, I should do it through the NOP.

Why did you decide to join LUMS?

Zainab: During  my A-levels at Resource Academia, all my friends were interested in joining LUMS. It was their dream. So it was through them that I also developed an interest in applying to LUMS. My brother also encouraged me and motivated me to join LUMS as he felt that as a LUMS graduate one’s value in the job market is very high. And I agree with him.

Tell us about your family.

Zainab: My father was a semi-government official, who retired and invested his provident fund in a business venture, which failed and as a result he lost all his savings. He has a Masters degree in English Literature but was unable to find a job so he started teaching calligraphy at various schools. To make ends meet, my elder brother also started working alongside studying for his Engineering programme at UET. He is now a computer engineer, working at an oil and gas company. My mother is a housewife.

How did you prepare for the LUMS admission test and the NOP coaching sessions?

Zainab: I applied to LUMS through the normal stream and 80% scholarship initially. However, my financial aid letter said that if I wanted further assistance I could send a request. I did that and was called in for an interview for the NOP.

How did you feel when you got the letter saying that you have been admitted to LUMS and you will be joining soon?

Zainab: Honestly speaking, I was not aware of the magnitude of the opportunity I had been given. My parents come from a rural background and moved to Lahore 30-40 years ago. Although my initial schooling was from Beaconhouse School System, and A-levels were from Resource Academia, I had no idea about LUMS because none of my family members, friends or acquaintances had been there. When I came to LUMS I was very impressed. I thought the infrastructure, the environment and the people were awesome. Now, I advise people to send their children to LUMS if they want them to get the best education in Pakistan.

How did you choose your area of specialisation?

Zainab: When I joined LUMS I discovered that everyone wanted Accounting and Finance as their major, so I also decided to follow the trend. Also, Accounting and Finance seemed to be the kind of major which would guarantee a good job. My family also encouraged me. But after a couple of quarters in Accounting and Finance, I realised that I was not interested in the field. I liked studying languages, I was a debater and a poet, so I felt that these numbers and ledgers were not my piece of cake.

My parents discouraged me from taking Social Sciences considering the limited career choices. My father said, “What would you do after studying Social Sciences?” He himself was from a Social Sciences background and could not find a suitable job. But fortunately, my cousin, who is a Masters in Social Sciences and is teaching in UK, intervened and convinced my father to let me study Social Sciences. I changed my major in the last semester of the second year. I felt that I was made for the field. I didn’t need to put any effort to study and enjoyed every course. I got good grades because I was enjoying my studies. I applied in the same stream at Oxford as well. Everybody kept convincing me to change my major, saying that nobody knows what anthropology is. You have to tell people that it’s a branch of sociology, something related to sociology though slightly different.

How did you get your admission and scholarship at Oxford?

Zainab: I applied for the Masters in Social Anthropology at Universities of Cambridge, Manchester and Oxford. I got an offer from University of Manchester within a couple of weeks after applying. For University of Oxford, I applied within the first deadline and I did everything heartedly. While waiting for a response, a friend suggested emailing the concerned person at Oxford to inquire about my admission. I did that and got a prompt response with an admission offer letter in the email! I started crying with excitement and calling out to my Dada (Grandfather), who thought that I was crying because I had seen a lizard. When he came to my rescue I showed him the letter and asked him to read it over and over again to make sure I had actually got the admission.

After receiving this great news the next task was to arrange for funding to pursue my Masters at Oxford. I had applied for two scholarships, the Agha Khan Foundation Scholarship and the Punjab Education Endowment Fund (PEEF). I had also applied for an Oxford Internal Scholarship but I didn’t get any response from the University. Many people also told me that this scholarship was not given to overseas students so I should not raise my expectations.

PEEF refused my application as my area of study didn’t fall under their category of scholarships so my next option was the Agha Khan Foundation Scholarship. I got through their initial screening and application process and was called for an interview at their office in Islamabad. I cleared that interview and was informed that my application was sent to their Geneva office for approval. I was amongst the 12 people whose applications were forwarded to Geneva office, but only 7 were granted the scholarship and I was not amongst them. This was very discouraging for me.

My father’s dream was that I should appear in the CSS exam and become a government official, so I took admission in a CSS preparation academy. After 3 or 4 days of my joining the academy, I got an email from Oxford informing that I had received the Oxford scholarship! I was overjoyed!

I had received the Oxford University’s internal scholarship, the Noon Educational Foundation Scholarship, which is very prestigious because they maintain very high criteria. This scholarship is just like the LUMS NOP; the University receives grants from various people and then decides who the grant goes to. Oxford gets grants from the Noon Educational Foundation and then distributes them to the deserving students. This scholarship is specifically given to Pakistani students. 

Tell us about your experience at LUMS. Was it difficult to settle in?

Zainab: No, it’s harder for people who come from far flung areas. It was easy for me to settle at LUMS as I spent my whole life in Lahore and studied at institutions like Beaconhouse.

Now that you are at Oxford, pursuing your MSc what do you foresee for yourself in the future? What do you want to do after you get your degree?

Zainab: I am thinking of taking a break when I come back, as I got married recently and want to spend some time settling down, after which I want to do my PhD. My husband is very proud of the fact that his wife is going to Oxford. He is constantly telling me to complete my PhD requirements while I am at Oxford.

How long is your MSc programme? Would you be doing your PhD in the same field?

Zainab: The duration of the MSc programme is one year. I would like to do my PhD in the same field from either University of Oxford or Cambridge.

What do you plan to do after you have completed your studies?

Zainab: I would like to come back to LUMS and teach here. Also, I have a couple of friends from the anthropology stream who are establishing a social sciences research based company. Some of my friends are writing research based articles for newspapers. So, the ground is being prepared for people from our field and LUMS has played a major role in this. LUMS encourages research and helps authors to get it published. It promotes free thinking and moving beyond close mind sets which are plenty in Pakistan. When you graduate from LUMS, you can pursue anything.

What advice would you give to somebody applying to LUMS through NOP?

Zainab: I will just tell them one thing that if you come through the NOP, make sure that you don’t waste the donor’s money and a deserving applicant’s seat. If you come to LUMS, it’s your responsibility to make the best of this opportunity granted to you because of somebody’s generosity. 

Did you feel more pressure to succeed because you were from the NOP stream?

Zainab: Yes! Being honest, I was making sure that my personal efforts, my teachers' efforts and most importantly, the generosity of the donors funding our education don’t go waste. My dream is to come back to LUMS and fund someone’s education as someone funded mine.