“Over the past decade, I am trained as an agriculture scientist with a focus on developing climate resilient crops using genetics and genomics tools. Belonging to a developing country Pakistan where food scarcity has been a key issue, I have developed a strong interest in contributing towards food security at domestic and global level. It was not until my plant genetics class at the undergraduate level, when I realized my passion to answer why some plants perform better than the others under same environmental conditions, which became a driving force for all my future interests and efforts.”
Born and raised in “Bhakkar”, a small town in Punjab, Pakistan, lacking any quality education school in town, I never thought of being a scientist in this life. Playing cricket was my passion, and most of my time after school was spent playing cricket with my street friends or reading story books at the library. After my college degree, I wanted to work with my father in his business of selling newspapers, novels, and books. However, my father wanted me to pursue further studies at a higher education level to secure a better job. The purpose of education in the family and even society was/is just to secure a suitable job to support the family. In my limited environment, there were no outreach programs to enlighten me, and finally I decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in agriculture. In the beginning, I find my interest in entomology because of a huge diversity of insects on this planet, but after I attended my first Plant Genetics class, all my interests shifted towards “genetics”. Mendel became the most inspirational personality/scientist for me and I started thinking about genetics all the time and in every living organism. I was lucky to be mentored by very supportive and friendly teachers who have discovered a future-scientist in me and pushed me to continue my career in science.
Recording the phenotype of experimental plants for panicle development at the experimental site of Crop Science Institute, CAAS, Beijing.
I started a Ph.D. degree in Plant Genetics from UAF Pakistan, and won a highly competitive fully funded fellowship by USAID for split degree program with UC Davis, however, I soon realized that I can’t learn enough of the Molecular Genetics here due to very limited resources, and decided to go abroad for a full Ph.D. Within a couple of months, I received a fully funded Ph.D. fellowship from Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), Beijing, which is a prestigious research-focused institute in China. I was excited to start my Ph.D. journey at CAAS mainly because my research interests and experience in rice genetics & molecular biology align well with the host supervisor and his proven research productivity in this domain.
Demonstrating the work of genomics core facility of crop science institute of CAAS to the foreign delegate from Solomon Islands.
This was a defining moment for my career, and for me it was like starting a whole new life in China. For the first three years or more, I often worked late night including most of the weekends, and at some point, I felt like research is the only thing in my life. However, I always took some time off from this research schedule at least once a month to hang out with my friends to explore the beautiful culture of China, and this is necessary to charge you up again to take a fresh start. Despite many challenges, I was lucky to work on different interesting projects, and collaborate with people around the world which broadened my exposure and skills. This beautiful journey ended up with several high-quality publications as first and co-author, several awards and prizes as an outstanding student and researcher from CAAS, and above all making so many nice friends and collaborators all over China and beyond.
Receiving the outstanding research paper award by president of CAAS.
The most important thing for a Ph.D. student is to make a compatibility with the supervisor in thinking and working style, and agree on a common ground, which I was successful to much extent. At several points in my Ph.D., I disagreed with my supervisor for the project ideas and experiments, however, I was able to convince him most of the time with the help of literature and discussing it with the experts in the field. I always appreciate my supervisor “Xueyong Li” who never discouraged me even on my stupid ideas. It is critical to discuss your ideas and challenges with the experts of the field, and conferences offer a great opportunity for this. Students must travel internationally during their Ph.D. to see how the people work in the other world, and you will surely learn the things that you can’t do otherwise.
Pakistan faced an emergency situation in Agriculture due to Locust swarms quickly devastated large areas of agricultural land across the country in 2019. Cotton, a major cash crop of the country, also destroyed due to CLCV virus transmitted by the tiny insect, whitefly. This fostered my interest in studying the insect pests of crops to devise the strategies against these pests, and so I find a relevant position to work as a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Botany and Plant Sciences department at the University of California, Riverside. Riverside is a beautiful place, and I am enjoying my new research direction “genetic and molecular basis of plant-insect interaction”. Apart from doing science, I also spend time in exploring the different cultures, food, and international politics.
Enjoying coffee with lab fellows on a cold winter sunny day at the UC Riverside.