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Six Questions with: Dr Alia Sajjad

Six Questions with: Dr Alia Sajjad

Alia Sajjad is a Researcher in the Education Department of the Government of Punjab, Pakistan and was a Visiting Fellow on the Design and Analysis of Experiments programme in 2011.

When did you become first interested in mathematics and what keeps your interest fresh?

Mathematics has been my favourite subject since my early school days. I still remember a period of two or three years at school when I was not performing well in studies generally, but getting 100% in Mathematics and Urdu. For the second part of your question 'what keeps my interest fresh', I would say that I never felt my interest fading out - I always have some mathematics book on my bedside! But during the last few years my interest has particularly been increased. My short stay at Queen Mary University of London and working under Rosemary Bailey's guidance both had significant impact on my interest in Mathematics.

Could you tell us a little about your career path so far and what your current research involves?

I received my masters degree in Applied Mathematics and began teaching Mathematics at a school. After one and a half years I was selected as a Lecturer in Mathematics by Punjab Public Service Commission. I served for 13 years at the Government Post Graduate College for Women in Sialkot and for two years at Khyaban-e-Sirsyed College for Women in Rawalpindi. The main field of my research is Design of Experiments and I work in Optimal Designs. It is about choosing the best possible design in given circumstances. I am also interested in algebraic and combinatorial aspects of designs.

What achievements are you most proud of?

I am still quite new to post-doctoral research so I cannot claim any big achievements yet but there are a few things I feel proud of. I received several scholarships and awards throughout my academic career including the President Talent Scholarship during my undergraduate studies. I am also proud of the fact that I have helped several students to develop an interest in Mathematics and enabled them to overcome their problems.

How do you achieve a balance between your work and homelife?

It is really a tough job particularly in Pakistan where the childcare system is not well developed. This is further complicated by the fact that all the household matters are generally looked after by women alone. To achieve a work-life balance had been a real challenge for me but I cut down my social life, took help in some household matters and tried to stay with my family as much as possible after my working hours. I was lucky to get the support of my mother in law when my kids were very young and she looked after them in my absence with the help of a maid. My husband offered a great moral support as well on all the occasions and he always encouraged me to achieve targets in my career. My parents have contributed greatly as well and in short, the whole thing was made possible by family support.

Although my sons are grown up now but they are still under 18 and this has made my visit to the Institute challenging as it was necessary for them to accompany me during my visit. There were problems with their visit due to their visa type and it really became impossible for me to arrange for them to attend school whilst in the UK. The Institute was wonderful in arranging tuition for them in a variety of subjects by very competent teachers in our home. I really feel happy and contented to see that the home tuition has allowed them to develop a special interest in Chemistry and expressing themselves in English. Many thanks to Isaac Newton Institute and to their teachers as well.

What advice would you offer to young women who are just starting their careers in the mathematical sciences?

I would encourage them! Particularly to the women of the developing countries I would say that you must keep on working and let your passion and ambition be your guide. Have a firm belief in yourself and in the fact that where there is a will there is a way. You will no doubt be able to make considerable contributions in the field of Mathematics.'

Has your visit to the Newton Institute been fruitful?

Yes, it has been great. It has been wonderful. I cannot express the excitement of my first week in words. Most of the great names in the field of design of experiments were around. Different programmes, workshops and discussions have played a significant role in developing an insight and improving my skills in various aspects of designs. To me it was nothing less than a paradise. I thought of a book and I could find it, I wanted to talk to the author and he was around to discuss. Well equipped libraries, peaceful environment, excellent series of programs and talks and a very cooperative administrative staff has made it a great place for researchers.

University of Cambridge Research Councils UK
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