Published 15 June 2017 by Ulrike Böhm

Women in Research: Specific Funding Needed, Says Hira Khalid

This interview is part of a series of interviews of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists participating in the 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, to increase the visibility of women in research (more information for and about women in science by “Women in Research” on Facebook and Twitter). Enjoy the interview with Hira and get inspired.


Photo: Courtesy of Hira Khalid
Photo: Courtesy of Hira Khalid

Hira Khalid from Pakistan is an Assistant Professor in Department of Chemistry at the Forman Christian College University Lahore, Pakistan. She is working on the synthesis of biologically active heterocyclic compounds. The synthesised compounds are characterised by different spectroscopy techniques and then screened against various enzymatic activities to evaluate their biological potential. She develops molecular models by performing docking studies of potential compounds from the series. The findings enable her to establish structure activity relationships, which are a main step for drug discovery.


What inspired you to pursue a career in science/chemistry?

Firstly, my parents induced love for science in me by developing reasoning and curiosity about life in my childhood – curiosity of finding the answers of questions such as “Why do trees have green leaves?”, “How can a patient be cured with a medicine?”, “How can milk transform into yogurt?”, “Why can I see different colours in a fire work?” or “How do things look different in colours?”. Another great observation was that when I put water into the freezer it forms beautiful crystals of different shapes. There is a long list of smart questions that are answered by chemistry.

So after completing my matriculation in science, I chose the pre-medical for Chemistry and Biology. I was admitted to the BSc Chemistry and then the MS and the PhD in Chemistry which was truly because of my interest and love for chemistry and desire for solving problems to serve humanity.


Who are your role models?

Many great people have inspired me as role models and they are in different fields of life. There are males and females who have influenced me: Einstein, Ms. Fatima Jinnah, Celion Dion, Operah and many others. Dr. Andrew J Boydston (University of Washington, Seattle), Dr. Aziz-ur-Rehman (GC University Lahore), who were my research supervisors have influenced me a lot; they are working with excellence in their field of chemistry and in their personal life.

In the field of chemistry, Madam Marie Curie, Robert Thomas, Stephanie Louise, Kwolek, Rosalind and Elsie Franklin have had a strong impact on my passion for chemistry. Though there are many other great women in chemistry, and it is hard to confine with few only. I like women who pursue their education and career along with their family commitments. They have faced all the hardships and resistance because it has never been easy for a woman to pursue her dreams. It is worth mentioning that as a woman in general my role model is my grandmother, who raised my mom with best traits and education even though being a single parent and without any financial support. My mother is my role model because she worked hard for carrying her education and then continuing her higher education with children and job but of course that was not possible without support of my father. She groomed us with all the best.


How did you get to where you are in your career path?

In light of my background in chemistry, I did my BSc (Hons.) Chemistry in 2005 and then MS in Chemistry in 2008 at the Institute of Chemistry, University of the Punjab with specialisation in Analytical Chemistry under supervision of Prof. Dr Jamil Anwer Ch. During my MS, I not only learnt the classical and modern techniques but also got the privilege of working with the latest instruments, e.g., HPLC, FTIR and the GFA-Spectrometer. I got a First Class in my BSc Hons. As well as my MS degree and continued my academic career with First Class results.

After the MS, I received the Indigenous Research Scholarship for PhD from the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC). I did my PhD in Organic Chemistry from the Department of Chemistry, GC University Lahore in 2014 under the supervision of Dr. Aziz-ur-Rehman. The aim of my PhD research work was to synthesise novel compounds exhibiting diverse and improved pharmacological potential with an objective to search new contenders of drug with enhanced activity, which could be helpful in controlling many degenerative diseases.


Photo: Courtesy of Hira Khalid
Photo: Courtesy of Hira Khalid

I was awarded the “Best PhD Scholar of the year 2011-2012” award by the departmental research committee on extraordinary research work in the first year of my PhD. I was awarded International Research Support Initiative program award (IRSIP) to work with Boydston research group in University of Washington Seattle USA for six months as international student intern in 2013. I had the privilege to work under the supervision of the distinguished Dr Andrew J Boydston on self-immolative polymers. I used advanced equipment and got expertise in instruments such as GC-MS, AV-300, 301, 500 NMR and dry box. I was the first and only Pakistani student who got the opportunity to work at the University of Washington, Seattle as international student intern during my PhD where I not only improved my skills in chemistry but have also learnt a lot about lab management, adaptation to different culture, socialising and interacting with people internationally. I participated in ICPAC 2012, which was organised in Mauritius, where I was the only Pakistani student who gave an oral presentation among 350 participants from 72 different countries. I was included as international advisory member for ICPAC 2014.

I have served GC Women University Sialkot, Pakistan as Assistant Professor for Chemistry from May 2015 to January 2017. I am an HEC approved research supervisor. I am affiliated with a number of national and international societies, i.e, IUPAC young fellow since 2010 till now, member American Oil’s Chemist’s Society (AOCS), life time member Chemical Society of Pakistan (CSP), American Chemical Society (ACS) Chemistry Ambassador, I have worked as Coordinator Chemistry award of National Academy of young scientists (NAYS) of Pakistan 2010-2013. I have more than 25 international research publications on my credit.

I like women who pursue their […] career along with their family commitments.

Currently, I feel proud to serve the Forman Christian College (FCC), a chartered University as an Assistant professor. FCCU has been served by a large number of distinguished educational leaders and teachers throughout its history. Dr CW Forman, Dr Sir JCR Ewing, Dr CH Rice, Dr ED Lucas, Dr SK Dutta, Dr HC Velte, Dr JH Orbison, Noble Laureate Dr Arthur Compton, Maulvi Muhammad Bakar, Dr HD Griswold, Prof JM Benade, Shamsul Ulema, Maulavi Muhammad Hussain, Dr KC Chatterji, Dr P Carter Speers, Dr SL Sheets, Prof MS Bhatti, Maulana Farzand Ali, Dr RH Ewing, Dr EJ Sinclair, Dr Robert F Tebbe and Dr Carl Wheeless are among many who have impacted the lives of students and shaped the future of the college through the years. Under their leadership, the college became widely regarded as one of the very best in the entire subcontinent.


What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?

The coolest project is the project which I have started in my PhD and now I am advancing that project. It is most inspiring to synthesise poly-functional organic compounds with beautiful and complex heterocyclic rings from simple substrates and then conducting their computational studies in which I can see these synthesised compounds in movement and their 3-D structures, and I can see how they will bind with protein to cure a disease.


What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself / your work?

The day when I got the letter for being selected for the International Support Award by Higher Education Commission of Pakistan to work in University of Washington, Seattle which is in the top 30 world ranked universities and I was the only and very first Pakistani who got the opportunity to work in UW.


What is a “day in the life” of Hira like?

My day starts at 5 am and I reach my University at 8 am. I make a to-do list for that day, and then I start my tasks. I enjoy teaching my students and then interacting with them regarding their research projects.

Each of my days is different form the other including the experience of class teaching. The exciting thing is this that the whole day is busy with teaching, departmental tasks, mentoring students, looking into results of my experiments and writing them up. To analyse the data after experiments, which involves dedication and mental exercise, is more exciting for me. For me “a day in my life” is a day on which I accomplish my tasks and go through research articles and then on my arrival at home I have quality time with my family.


What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

There are lot of things to accomplish in a career, completing the on-going projects of Baccalaureate, MS and PhD students as a research supervisor. I am looking forward for my patent, developing the best collaboration with industry so they can invest in research projects which will improve the quality of research in the pharmaceutical industry of Pakistan. I am also planning for prestigious fellowships for post docs, especially the Humboldt/Max Planck fellowship. I also want to participate in international seminars and conferences to present my research work and speak about the role of women in science especially from a developing country which has impression of deprived women.


What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?

I like music, gardening, cooking, traveling, eating and playing with kids.


Photo: Courtesy of Hira Khalid
Photo: Courtesy of Hira Khalid


What advice do you have for other women interested in science/chemistry?

If there is a will, there is a way. You can do anything. You just need to be focused and passionate. I firmly believe that if you are honest and genuine with what you want to do and you are not selfish with your loved ones then your family will be your key support and you will achieve all the best in your life in all respects.


In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in science/chemistry?

In my opinion, the most emerging breakthrough will be synthetic, responsive biopolymers that can be triggered and stimulated by different factors within body.

Developing countries are facing these challenges even more than underdeveloped ones.

What should be done to increase the number of female scientists and female professors?

We could support female contribution as scientists and as professor by providing the opportunities for studies close to their towns so they face less hardship. The jobs must address the other genuine issues of women as they are playing double role in comparison to men that they have to give full time in their jobs and managing their family life.

There is a great need of providing exclusive research funding and fellowships for women scientists, because they have to struggle much harder for developing research collaborations and then pursuing international funding. In the case of developing countries like Pakistan, we do not have good research funding from local industries and find very few funding organisations that focus on women so that we could benefit by their vision and intellectual capacities.

There is a need to announce research funding for women across the globe by prestigious sponsors of science and education to empower women. Developing countries are facing these challenges even more than underdeveloped ones.

Ulrike Böhm

Ulrike Boehm is a physicist and science enthusiast. She works as an optical scientist at ZEISS in Oberkochen, Germany. Previously, she did her Ph.D. studies at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen in the Department of NanoBiophotonics of Nobel Laureate Stefan Hell, followed by research stays in the US at the National Institutes of Health and HHMI’s Janelia Research Campus, developing tools for biomedical research. She is generally passionate about designing and building (optical) instruments to image, probe, and manipulate (biological) structures. Furthermore, she is passionate about science communication and open science and is a huge advocate for women in science.