The Reluctant Researcher — Searching for a dream living

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I had many presumptions while about to graduate from my PhD studies. The first presumption was that after working for a year or two in my home country of Pakistan, I’ll be able to get a job in academia in the middle east and all my financial worries will be over. The second presumption was that different universities in Pakistan will welcome me with open arms and offer me salary that will be handsome and will allow me to live a reasonable lifestyle while also fulfilling my family’s and specially my mother’s dreams and desires. My family, specially mother, had high hopes. Another presumption was that I will be able to teach quietly, though externally I did maintain the facade that research is also important for me. All in all, the presumptions I made at the start of my PhD were meant to live a dream life of comfort and luxury.

Slowly, but surely, each presumption gave its way. Middle east was no more welcoming PhD’s in droves. They had ample supply and were in a position to chose, specially with an educated local work force. Furthermore, with the higher education system of the middle east modeled after the US/Canadian system, they preferred PhD’s from across the Atlantic. I applied umpteenth times to different universities but rarely got any reply and was only able to land one interview in KFUPM which ended in a rejection five minutes after the interview ended. Although the official reason was that my area of expertise did not match their requirements, I am sure it had to do with my competence as well. It is easy to hide behind the official reason and believe that it has nothing with me, it is important to also face the reality.

Pakistan also had a deluge of PhD’s and salaries, though much better than the average income, was low to be able to live reasonably and save for the future. Pakistan does not have a very thriving public school and medical system and one has to rely on private offerings which are expensive. One has to save for health care, education and for eventually owning a house, which seemed difficult in what was being offered.

My area of expertise also held me back. There were very few opportunities and many aspiring candidates having the same or similar expertise I had. Furthermore, I mainly aimed for privately run institutes that offered better salaries as compared to state run. However, these institutes were mainly commercial one which preferred profits over quality and thus candidates with only a Masters degree were preferred as they had to be paid less.

I went to multiple universities to give presentations and put forward my candidature, yet was only able to have one offer from a place far away from my home city (more on that later). Thus, the second presumption also ended up in a rude awakening.

The third presumption of quietly teaching also took a different turn against my expectations. Although the Pakistani universities were not producing meaningful research, apart from a few exceptions, all universities were keeping a facade of being research intensive by pushing the faculty to publish more papers. The institute that I eventually joined was also suffering from the same misconceived notion of research equaling more publications. Universities in Pakistan, in the garb of research, have started neglecting teaching and learning, discouraging good and innovative teaching and de-incentivising people who wanted to focus on the learning of students, their foundations, their personalities and their approach to life in general and education and learning in particular.

Thus, all of the presumptions turned out to be dreams and frustrated me to no end. I failed to be realistic by carefully researching about what it means to be a researcher and how does a career in research pans out. I failed to see the high rise in PhDs across Pakistan and the Middle East. I did not properly calculate the cost of living in Pakistan against the salaries on offer. In some ways, the presumptions were a way for me to avoid reality and live in a dreamland, always assuming that since I am going back to Pakistan for a noble cause (to live with my mother), the Al-Mighty will make things work for me, forgetting to realize that:

He only helps those who help themselves.




A reluctant researcher, making the transition to industry. Opinions expressed in my posts are mine and not of my employer.

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Syed Asad Alam

Syed Asad Alam

A reluctant researcher, making the transition to industry. Opinions expressed in my posts are mine and not of my employer.

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