Careers in Botany - A love of flowers and plants
Dr. Mudassir Asrar Zaidi, University of Blaochistan Quetta, Pakistan
Bacon says “God Almighty first planted a garden and indeed, it is the purist of human pleasures. It is the greatest refreshment to the spirits of man” and Woman (I have added).
Love of flowers and plants is the motto of my life. As far as I remember in my early life at the age of five onwards I used to say that I can’t live without flowers and plants. Since then I always had my own flower beds where I used to grow and take care of my favorite plants and flowers. I was in love with roses I usually kissed/touched/smelled or at least say hello to every rose of my garden each day. Later I started counting their sepals, petals without damaging them through which I developed a passion for research. Being a good student I always worked hard with commitment and determination and received merit scholarships and was always placed on top in extra curricular activities. I decided to graduate in Botany but at that time in my native town Quetta, (which is close to Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan) there was only one University and that too did not have a botany department. Therefore, I decided to leave my home town to pursue a masters degree in Botany from Karachi University. Although, it was unusual for girls to acquire higher education in a different city, my parents encouraged me to do so as they instilled in me, the value of education. I completed my master’s degree under the able guidance of learned faculty and also served as the first and last female elected President of the students union.
I returned to my hometown in 1980 after completing my Master’s degree. Fortunately, the University of Balochistan decided to start a Botany department so I joined the department as a lecturer merely a week after completing my Master’s. Since then I started research on algae, medicinal plants and environment despite limited facilities and countless problems. However, I was able to complete my M.Phil studies and published a few papers in the first six years of my service and got promoted to an Assistant professor in 1986..
Meanwhile I got married to Israr ul Huda who is an engineer by profession. Now I have three grown up kids. My eldest son Ahsan is a PhD candidate in Bioinformatics in Georgia Institute of Technology, USA. My daughter Faria has recently completed dental school and youngest son Sohaib has recently passed his ‘A level’ examinations from Cambridge University, London and is planning to do Chartered Accountancy. Soon after completing M.Phil, I set out to pursue a Ph.D degree. This was one of the most testing periods of my life. I experienced a hostile work environment because of my senior colleague and the attitudes of man dominant society of my university. With three kids, teaching and departmental responsibilities, I found it very difficult to concentrate on my Ph.D research. However, my firm resolve helped me complete my Ph.D. under the guidance of my supervisors Prof. Dr. Atta-Ur-Rehman (An eminent scientist and Federal Minister/Chairman, Higher Education Commission of Pakistan) and Prof. Dr. Malghani
Since 1981 I have been supervising student research. Being a productive scientist of Pakistan, I have been approved by HEC (Higher Education Commision) as a PhD supervisor and have supervised eight PhD/M.Phil graduate. Currently, ten students are pursuing their M.Phil and PhD degrees in my lab. More than fifty students have completed their Master’s theses under my supervision. I specially encouraged female students in this field. I try to accompany them to their research locations which are sometimes in far flung areas of the province like Gawadar, Harnai, Lasbella, Loralai, Punjgur, Turbat etc. At present many of my students are serving at different key positions in the province. I remained a student advisor of the department for twenty-five years during which I helped students solve academic, social, personal, family problems. I also helped them in organizing departmental functions, parties and encouraged them to participate in extracurricular activities, games, discussions. I have always had a great relationship with my students and I love them as my kids.
I served as a Chairperson of the department for three years during which I upgraded several aspects of the Botany department. I revised 20 years old syllabi, started seminar series by guest speakers who are scientists from different parts of the country, organized workshops, extra-curricular activities, improved equipment and infrastructure of the department.
I have written a book entitled “Fresh water algae from Balochistan” which was launched in 2000 by the Governor of Balochistan and Prof. Dr. Atta-Ur-Rehman the then Federal Minister of Education in Pakistan. I have also organized more than 40 seminars and workshops on biodiversity and plant sciences in Quetta.
I have been awarded three of the world’s most prestigious research fellowships: Fulbright, Commonwealth and Alexander von Humboldt. During Fulbright Post Doctorate I worked with Prof. Dr. Sidney A. Crow in the department of Biology Georgia State University Atlanata for one year. Later, I went to the University of London for six months on Commonwealth fellowship and worked with Dr. Simon Gibbons in the School of Pharmacy. In London I was also honored and elected as a fellow of Linnaean Society of London (FLS). I carried out research on indigenous medicinal plants of Pakistan which hold great potential of holding a cure for various diseases.
In my research on medicinal plants, I examine the bioactive plant extracts and purify, isolate and identify the biologically active compounds. I have found some interesting results and have according published them in my recent publications. I have published 40 papers, in International and National Journals. I have attended and presented a several papers/posters in more than 10 prestigious conferences of Botanical Society of America/ American Society of Microbiology in USA and UK and also attended more then 36 International and national conferences in Pakistan.
I am a visiting faculty at the Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering and Management Sciences, Quetta, where I supervising a large number of students. I am also working as a consultant for the Floriculture Cell at Governor House, Quetta. Governor Balochistan Owais Ahmed Ghani has shown keen interest in the uplift of agriculture of the province. I have signed an MOU between University and the Governor. We have initiated a floriculture cell in the province to provide technical assistance to people cultivating flowers for commercial purposes. whereby I am supervising many biotechnology projects which include the cultivation of a large number of economically important plant species in various areas of Balochistan, I have also establishing Botanical garden in which a variety of plants have been grown including medicinal plants, endangered species, economically important plants, unique plants and drought resistant species. I have also established two labs of plant tissue culture and a lab of Environmental Protection Agency. Through the tissue culture lab we have recently started providing a number of commercially important high quality plants to the farmers and growers. Our first projects include the cultivation of pineapple, banana and orchids for this purpose. We are also culturing Juniper excelsa and Pinus gerardiana for conservation as their forests in our area are fast depleting.
I am representing HEC in the Senate of Women University, Quetta and also represented the HEC in the Syndicate of the other Universities of Balochistan. I am a member of more than 20 technical committees of Pakistan like Pakistan Science Foundation technical committee on Biology, HEC, subject committee National Testing Services, Pakistan (NTS) to prepare test for the International GRE (Graduate Record Examination). I also started the Research Journal University of Balochistan and also served as a member of the editorial board of many International and National Journals of Botany and Biology. I am life member of Pakistan Botanical Society, Pakistan Chemical Society, currently also serving as a member of International committee of the Botanical Society of America and American Society for Microbiology.
I also served as an active member of many social welfare organizations that are working for the betterment of women such as Business and Professional Women, Women welfare societies, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and Helpers Association. I have also established a university day care centre and university model school for Balochistan University and am involved with many girl schools and Industrial homes in Quetta. My hobbies are gardening, playing cricket and gliding.
Balochistan lags behind the other provinces of Pakistan in terms of social and economic progress. My mission is to help improve these conditions through the use of science and technology, education and most importantly the empowerment of women.