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Commentaries

Whirlwind Speaking Tour of Pakistan

I just reached Dubai International airport after concluding an extremely rewarding visit to Lahore.

The main purpose of my visit was to deliver the keynote address at a humanities conference organized by the University of Lahore, department of English, but, as is always the case with my Pakistan trips, I ended up giving three additional talks at different universities.

The conference, entitled Geographies of Resistance, was a wonderfully organized two-day event with a dual focus on literature and linguistics. I found all sessions to be extremely well organized and very well attended. Some of the major figures of Pakistani higher education were present during various sessions and I was lucky enough to meet Dr. Mujahid Kamran and Dr. Tariq Rahman and had the chance to see some old friends and mentors like Dr. Shahid Siddiqui and Dr. Waseem Anwar.

I think even more delightful part of this whole experience for me personally was the chance to meet and interact with the young and emerging scholars. People have often asked me as to why I agree to visit for such short visits, especially considering that it usually takes me two days to reach Pakistan from Dallas. My usual answer is always that it is my way of giving something back to Pakistan, which is an honest answer. But I think for me personally, all such visits are also always spiritually and professionally invigorating and I always return home with some new ideas and always after having made some new friends. So, in this sense, the University of Lahore conference wasn’t just a professional opportunity but rather also an event that gave me a chance to meet some brilliant young scholars and enabled me to share my own current thoughts on humanities with a curious and eager audience of fellow learners. I am deeply grateful to the conference organizers for inviting me as their keynote speaker.

I would like to personally thank the Dean, Dr. Muhamamd Shahbaz Arif, for his hospitality and the two conference organizers, Dr. Farah Kashif and Arjumand Bano, for their kindness and care during my visit.

As always happens with my visits, this time too I ended up doing more than what I had planned. My other activities included a lecture on postcolonial studies at UMT, which was organized by my friend Dr. Naila Sahar. I enjoyed the wonderful questions that her students asked during the session.

Yet another session was organized by Aisha Ahmad, another dear friend, at Lahore Leads University where we mostly talked about theory, post colonialism, and scholarly writing. My friend Shaista Zeb, Chair of English at NUML Lahore, organized yet another sessions on scholarly writing. So, even though physically I was pretty much exhausted by the time I left Lahore, I was, however, intellectually and spiritually invigorated.

Just seeing the degree and intensity of interest in learning, often under trying circumstances, is what I find the most impressive about Pakistani students and scholars.

I hope to return this summer to have some more of these enriching exchanges.

Categories
Commentaries

Brief Guidelines for Applying to US Universities for Doctoral Studies and Post-Doc Research

Introduction:

This draft document elaborates the general application process to US research universities. For a more detailed understanding of the process, the candidates should research the application criteria on the particular University websites. These draft guidelines are prepared voluntarily to aid the aspirational guidelines of Higher Education Commission as contained in the HEC Vision 25, Section D and are primarily focused on the Pakistani scholars interested in applying to US PhD programs or Postdoc research projects.

Applications to Doctoral Programs:

General:

Most US universities require certain general qualifications that apply to all Doctoral candidates regardless of their discipline of study. Please bear the following in mind before applying:

  • Most US universities only consider PhD application for the fall admissions (Starting in August or September).
  • The application deadlines are usually in December or January: For example, if you are applying for admission for Fall 2019, your application deadline could be either Dec 31, 2018 or January 31, 2019.
  • US universities very rarely admit doctoral students in the Spring semester.
  • The reason for this schedule is connected to funding. The Universities decide their graduate funding once a year, and thus all funding is made available for the fall semester as the beginning semester of the academic year.
  • Admission to a good US university, therefore, is almost a one year process.

Basic Requirements:

The admission at all universities is a three-tier process and you will be dealing with three entities on any US university campus: The Office of International Studies; The office of Graduate Studies/ Admissions, and the College or department to which you are applying.

First Stage (Required by the International Office/ Graduate Admissions Office to Move your application to the College/ Department

  • An Official TOEFL score (Unless you have masters from an English-Speaking Country (Pakistan does not qualify for this).
  • Transcripts of all your previous work
  • A GRE/ GMAT Score depending on your area of study.
  • A statement of Purpose (Usually up to 700 words)

Second Stage: College/ Departmental Requirements

  • Three letters of recommendation
  • A Writing/ Research sample

Final Stage: (After Admission has been granted)

The Office of International Studies will ask you to provide proof of Payment ability. Usually a bank statement or a letter stating that you have a scholarship. [Note: Ability to pay is not considered in making a decision about your admission; that is why you are asked for finances only after you have been admitted]

Issuance of I-20 Student Visa Form.

Transition to US:

Here are some of the important steps:

  • Accommodation: if the institution provides graduate housing, immediately apply for it through their online request forms.
  • If you cannot get University accommodation, contact the International Office to suggest any off- campus accommodation. Reach out to Pakistani/ South Asian Student associations on campus to see if they can help you find a place to live.
  • Arrange with the International office to see if they will arrange picking you up at the airport; most universities will make this arrangement.
  • Get in touch with the Grad advisor in your future program to seek guidance about registering for classes etc.
  • Bring all your credentials in original to the US.

Post-Doc Applications:

The US universities do not charge a bench fee for post-docs. The post-doc students come under the J1 visa program. In order to get the visa, you may follow the following steps:

  • Contact a specific faculty member who works in the area of your interest.
  • Send them a query email, clearly stating your research interests and ask if they would be willing to work with you as a mentor.
  • If they agree, then send them your research proposal.
  • It takes only a few days for a faculty member to fill the necessary forms and refer you to the Office of International Studies.
  • The office of International Studies will gather more of your information including your ability to bear the cost of your stay [usually calculated based on cost of living statistics of the state]
  • After you have proved the ability to sustain your stay, they will issue you a J-1 visa.
  • As a J-1 scholar, you can also work on campus for up to 30 hours per week.
  • Your spouse can also accompany you on a J-2 visa if you can prove your ability to pay the cost of his or her stay.
  • You will also need the proof a health insurance plan that meets the J1 Visa stipulations.

Useful Links:


Categories
Editorials

US-Pakistan Knowledge Program: How to Negotiate with US Universities

Introduction:
These observations are based in my personal experience at three US research universities and including also the experience of negotiating such a deal, at smaller level, with the University of North Texas. I offer these insights to the HEC initiative as described on Pages 37-39 of the HEC Vision 2025 Document.

Who to Contact:
In all cases, instead of initiating contact at the Chancellor level, it is more prudent to talk directly with the university administration, as the university Presidents are pretty autonomous in such cases.

Selecting the Universities:
We should target all major Research 1 universities, but especially those which are located in places with low cost of living. We could also research and target various universities based on their most highly ranked programs.
How to Contact:
A brief note should be developed that explains the Pakistani initiative to send 10000 PhD scholars to various US universities.
A designated person should first reach out to the office of the provost or the office of the president of the University and send a query email about whether or not they will be interested in discussing the project.
If they show interest, then HEC should send a team of experts to start the negotiating process. The team should have all the information and a really good presentation. Please make sure to invite the people from the department that you are interested in.
If possible, involve a diasporic Pakistani academic in the process.
What to Negotiate:
That the partnership will offer a certain specific number of seats, for certain specific number of years to qualified Pakistani candidates.
Ask them to charge you only the In-state tuition. You have the numbers on your side, so they should be willing to work with you. Various states have different laws for offering in-state tuition. Note that International tuition rate is almost always double that of the in-state tuition.
If your candidates have teaching experience, the host university can very easily adjust them at in-state rate by employing them as Teaching Assistants/ Research Assistants.
In the state of Texas, if Pakistan contributes $1000.00 to a general fund at the host university, the host university can issue that to the students as “scholarship” thus legally qualifying them to pay in-state tuition.
Where possible, negotiate that the host university should provide the health insurance.
Conclusion:
All major US universities love diversity and are desperate for International graduate students. In any such negotiation, Pakistanis, therefore, have an edge over their US counterparts, as the latter are never using their resources at an optimal level and bringing in more graduate students looks good in their annual reporting.