When The Goal is to Make Qualified Researchers in Bangladesh – The success story of Dr. Shawon

July 15, 2022

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“Success” is a crucial word for our youth. We are running blindfolded to cope with our fellows. In the process, we face anxiety, depression, hopelessness, and uncertainty about our future. In this devastating situation, seeing a little ray of sunshine helps us move forward, defeating the obstacles. Today is very special as it is Word’s Youth Skill Day. On this occasion, I am going to share a special story of a Bangladeshi boy. Hope it can bring a little hope to our young generation.

The year was 2021, June 18th. While scrolling through Facebook, a post caught my eyes, and I stopped.

In that post, the information was like, “To register for the course, please fill in the form.” And I was startled ( Amazed ) as it was completely free.

The instructor who will be conducting the course has completed a doctorate degree from the University of Oxford and an MSc from Karolinska University, Sweden. So, It was making the course cherry on the top.

I am sharing a story of a determined boy born and brought up in Bangladesh. He teaches and guides the youth of Bangladesh in High-Quality research in-depth. Moreover, he educates people about evidence-based medicine and misinformation, including those related to Covid-19.He also makes knowledge content on his personal YouTube channel and helps the future generation by educating them daily.

Now you know a little introduction! So, No more waiting. Let’s unfold the mysterious story behind the entire journey-

“My father amazed me by taking me to eat Falooda (A sweet Bangladeshi dessert) instead of bashing me for losing the scholarship in Class 5.”

While eating falooda, my father told me, “If you get a chance to get admitted to Faujdar Cadet, this pain will be gone. And I thought about the pain I caused my father. If I can reduce the pain somehow, I will try my best. “

This conversation was gushing through my mind, and I took the admission test. And I got selected.

Did you also feel it was emotional and inspiring at the same time?

It is a story of a boy named Md Shajedur Rahman Shawon. He lives in Sydney, Australia, with his wife (Dr. Fariha Binte Hossain Annesha) and a lovely daughter (Ariana).

Early Education and Life:

This incredible boy started his early school in Khaja Ajmeri KG and high school in Chittagong. He studied there from nursery to class two. Then he took the admission test for the two most prestigious schools in Chittagong.

One is Ispahani Public School and College, and the other is Collegiate School and College. Through his hard work, he got a chance at both schools. So finally, he decided to get himself admitted to Ispahani Public School and College.

He studied there till class 6. And it had come to a point when he got his scholarship result. It is the time when he thought his life had frozen. But miraculously, his father took him to a restaurant, as you heard in the story at the beginning, and how he fulfilled his father’s dream. So let’s recall the magical story and move on.

From class 7 to higher secondary school, he studied at Faujdar Cadet School and College. To get his medical degree, Md. Shajedur Rahman Shawon, who is now Dr. Shawon took admission tests, and got a chance at Dhaka Medical College, the number one medical college in Bangladesh. But guess what? There is also another magnificent story behind this.

Dr. Shawon with his family

This story might help those who are struggling to choose between Engineering and Medical. When he was admitted to coaching for medical, in the orientation program, one of the teachers told the class a story.

The story was like, “There was a King, and he had three sons. And the King’s dream was to make their son’s Archers. So, he hired the best instructor to teach three boys Archery. Then it was decided that there would be a competition between three boys. Now, the instructor asked one question of three students. The question was, “What do you see in front of you?“

The first son answers, “I can see a big field; after that, so many trees and a bird’s nest, which is my target.” The next son answered kind of similarly. But the small one replied that I could only see the bird’s nest in front of me. And later on, the youngest one won the competition.

Academic Life of Dr. Shawon

The moral of the story is that if you are determined to achieve your goal, your chances of success are the highest. And the story inspired Dr. Shawon. When he returned home, he told his mother and father to decide whether he would choose Medical or Engineering. They all came to a decision, and you know what he chose.

And we got lucky as Bangladeshis. You will understand why I am saying this eventually!

His advice to the youth is: “Stick to one thing, and your success will come eventually.”

He studied there for five years to take his MBBS (Masters of Medical Science) there. And later on, he did an internship there.

Higher Education Life:

He was much more interested in research than a practicing doctor. He took his Master’s degree in Public Health (MPH) from North South University in 2012. It was not a bombshell for us that he came in first there. But he felt the need to do more research.

When he was trying to study in a foreign country, he got a chance to do a Master in Epidemiology at the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden, which has provided the Nobel Prize in the fields of psychology and medicine since 1895. He studied for two years in epidemiology there. Dr. Shawon also got a chance to study abroad with a full scholarship at the University of Oxford. In 2020, he completed a Doctorate degree in Population Health.

So how does he get a chance with a full scholarship?

Well, there is an entire story behind it. So, let’s dive in without any further do, as it can be inspirational for many daydreamers.

In December 2016, when he was continuing his thesis in Sweden, he also got a chance to do a Ph.D. at the Karolinska Institute. He thought he would continue to study there as Sweden gives permanent residency after completing his Ph.D. So, he decided to learn the Swedish language and get himself admitted to an institute. Things were going alright until the third day when he realized it was not for me.

“Some people are better at certain things, and for many, it may be easier to learn a language; for few adapting mathematical theories is easier. I am lacking in learning a language while trying really hard, but I was not getting there.”

When I was frustrated with the situation, I told my wife we should switch to an English Speaking country for a long time.

My wife asked me, “So, where do you want to go?”

I replied that I have an utter interest in studying in the UK. As I have heard from my childhood, people study in Bilet (foreign countries, specifically the United Kingdom for some). At that time, Oxford was ranked number one in medical science. So, I searched the Oxford website. There are a few opportunities for Ph.D. where I need to compete worldwide, like British, American, and Asian. If I succeed after competing with everyone, I will get a chance to get a Ph.D. My department will also provide me with the funding. It was exciting and terrifying at the same time; I was skeptical about my qualifications and didn’t feel qualified in any way. Secondly, the validation of my IELTS expired.

Photo: Dr. Shawon during his research

Then one of my friends told me to talk to the supervisors. I emailed five supervisors and got a reply from three. But I can only apply to one project. So, then I started to think critically, like which supervisor liked me very much? In which project is my opportunity to get selected the highest?

So I talked to my wife (Dr. Annesha). She checked all my emails and selected one. So, I asked my wife, “Why did you choose this supervisor?”

When I was checking all the proposals, I got a good vibe from this supervisor as he asked me to send him a Ph.D. proposal when it was ready. I found him cordial and helpful.

With lots of temptation in my heart, I emailed two supervisors to say thank you and sorry. Then I got three recommendation letters, two from Karolinska and one from North South University’s professor. Then I needed a research proposal. So I wrote a research proposal and sent it to my supervisor. He told me to correct a few things, and I submitted them. Since I didn’t take the IELTS exam, I applied another way to convince them.

I wrote an application saying I am studying in Karolinska and here every subject in English and my result is also pretty good. I am hoping they will waive the IELTS. If you don’t consider it, you can give me a conditional offer letter (later one needs to take the IELTS exam). At a very crucial time, at the end of the deadline, my one recommendation letter hasn’t been submitted yet, because of some issues. Anyway, it got sorted out later. Three weeks later, I received an email, and I was preliminarily selected.

An interview will be conducted with me, who has been selected for the selection. That time it was a mixed feeling. I wasn’t sure whether I should be happy or sad because it could turn the tables. I was so frightened that I told my wife to go outside so that she couldn’t see my tense situation. The questions they asked were tricky. And finally, all is done!

It was Monday, at 3.30 p.m. I got a notification of an email from Oxford. With lots of hope and, at the same time, a bundle of nervousness, I checked the mail. And BOOM! I got an offer for a Phd. Congratulations to me. Also, it was an unconditional letter. I was mumbling in my mind that without IELTS I would not get a chance at Top class university like Oxford. I called my wife, and I was blubbering (crying uncontrollably )over the phone, and I told her I got the chance. Now she’s started crying. Then I called my parents on my way home.

Dr. Shawon concluded by saying, “Many of us may think we are not worthy of our dream. You may have some negative thoughts rambling around in your mind. A lot of people around us may talk negatively about us, but never stop chasing your dream!”

His quest for learning seems to have never stopped. He obtained advanced training in Diabetes Research from the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, and also received training in Genetic Epidemiology from the University of Bristol, UK. In Global Health Research for Non- communicable diseases (NCD also known as chronic diseases, tend to be of long duration and are the result of a combination of genetic, physiological, environmental, and behavioral factors.) received training from the University of Oxford.

Work-Life:

Seems like the diligent boy has every special story behind his journey! The reason for my saying this has a reason. Let’s dig into the story.

“I have seen and had an opportunity to come into contact with so many successful people. They have one thing in common. The work they are doing and their interest in the work is reflected in everything they say. And you can feel it. They always have a positive vibe, and this positive vibe makes you special compared to ten other people.” – Dr. Shawon said.

So, my advice to everyone and myself is to show your enthusiasm for the work you are doing, and your prospective employee, teacher, or boss will feel it.

There is a heartening story about when he first got his first job. As he decided he will ditch BCS (Bangladesh Civil Service) and be hitched with Research and will build his career in Research. So, he was dropping his CV in various job circulars on research. But nothing was working. In the meantime, ICDDRB (The International Center for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh) organized a course on “Cancer Prevention”. A foreigner will come to do the course in Bangladesh. So, he joined the course with great interest.

“I saw I was the youngest one among all of them, and many of them were already doing jobs in good positions. The course was one week long, and I tried to do it in the course to show my earnest interest in this. They divided us into teams. I was the youngest. But, I thought, “It could be my shot, it could be my opportunity.” – Dr. Shawon.

So, he tried to do every task with dedication and also did voluntary work. While he was doing these things, one person noticed me. It was my brother Adib, who later became Dr. Shawon’s boss!

But let’s see!

“When he saw my interest in work, he told me to drop my CV. I dropped the CV. A few days later, the first interview call of my life came. And I got my first job and got the opportunity to research the “James Bigden School of Public Health” in my life.

“See! I could do the course as a silent listener as I was the youngest one. But I dared to show that I have an interest and love for research. So, this thing caught everyone’s eye, and I got the job.” – Dr. Shawon.

Dr. Shawon got his second job when he was doing his masters in Sweden.

Let’s hear the story from him- “In Karolinska institute (Institute in Swedish) you have to do a thesis in 6 months. There, if supervisors have any projects in hand, they email the circular to every student. They really liked one project, which was “Risk of breast cancer with obesity at different ages from our childhood.” So, I applied for the project. Then the supervisor called me for the interview. Ultimately, I was selected for the thesis.

And I was working on my thesis. Months passed, and one day at lunch I was chatting with him.

Suddenly, he asked me, “Are you still writing blogs?”

Let’s first find out the background of the story

When Dr. Shawon was doing his master’s, he used to write on a website called “Epidemiology Inside.” There he used to write about topics such as how he was studying in a foreign country, what he was learning, and sharing his experience with everyone.

Then he added that I was very surprised and asked, “How do you know that I am writing blogs?”

The supervisor replied, “You mentioned the blog name in Extracurricular Activities at the very end of your CV, and by the way, this blog has played an important role in calling you in the interview.”

“I was very startled and asked why.”

The supervisor replied, “Look, many people applied for the project. But obviously, I didn’t call everyone. The reason I called you was because the guy who is writing a blog and sharing his research experience during his extra time must be an enthusiastic and motivated person. And working with this kind of person is therefore different.”

Secondly, “As I was writing the blog in English, he could guess my level of writing, so he might have thought I could write a research/ thesis paper in a good manner.”

“I was very much surprised. “The work I was doing was from my passion, no one was paying me for it. This work will give me a huge opportunity in the future.”

Why was it a big opportunity? – Let’s hear the story from the wonder boy himself

“I am saying this because when I was applying for the Ph.D. in Oxford, the thesis “Risk of Breast Cancer with Obesity at Different Ages from Our Childhood” helped me as the topic was “The relationship between getting fat in childhood and getting the chance of having diabetes. Obviously, if I hadn’t gotten the opportunity for that thesis, it would have been much harder to get a chance at Oxford.“

“If you can positively show your enthusiasm, it must catch someone’s eye. How it will work I can’t tell from upfront, but when you try to match all your previous dots, you will see that all the dots have a connection in between them and it will help you to be a successful person.”

An Initiative Taken for Students:

As you already know, I clicked on that link without thinking as I glanced at the form title — it was “Basic Research Methods in Health Science.” And that was a stroke of luck for so many students where the course was open for all irrespective of any background and qualifications and it was free of cost!

And the response was cosmic (heavenly). Nearly 4,500 people signed up for the course. Also, several student-led organizations joined as local knowledge partners. The course outline was to understand basic epidemiological hypotheses to measure health and disease, plan a research project and write a proposal for ethics approval, and so on. The course was conducted through Facebook live from July 2nd, 2021.

Recently, Dr. Shawon expressed his earnest desire to fulfill one of his biggest dreams: to train qualified researchers in Bangladesh.

As he is good at his words, he started taking classes in July. The specialty of this course is for all backgrounds. Med-student to MPH (Masters of Public Health) students to those who want to study in a foreign country but lack knowledge in Research Methodology, even Uni students with no science background!

This course will teach everything one needs to be a good researcher, from literature reviews to data analysis, how to design research papers and how to write proposals- everything will be in the course.

A developing country like Bangladesh is lagging in research due to not having enough knowledge of research methodology. So, at this crucial moment, Dr. Shawon’s courses that cover every aspect of research are truly a blessing for the country.

What makes Dr. Shawon different from any Researcher?

When every student was grappling (fighting without a weapon) for BCS (Bangladesh Civil Service) as it can bring home the bacon (money), provide you with a lavish care-free life, it also secures your social status and gives top-level job security. So why should people not chase after this? After all, it is a job we can call “All in one,” right?!

But wait, so why does a boy like Dr. Shawon has chosen Research over BCS?

In our country, there is an old saying for research like “Educated Unemployed”. While people like Dr. Shajedur are breaking the taboo, as well as educating students in Bangladesh about how gigantic this field is! He said he always has an earnest interest in the research field. And his parents fully supported and respected his decision.

Dr. Shawon posted, “I have no objections to anyone who wants to do BCS. But I don’t agree that everyone has to do BCS because there is a guarantee. “

Also, most of us have heard the word “epidemic.” But why now, not before?

Because epidemiologists keep us safe. They work behind us to make our world disease-free to prevent the epidemic. Dr. Shawon studied epidemiology, as we have known before, and is currently working in the Center for Big Data Research in Health at UNSW, Australia (The University of New South Wales). Recently, he has been nominated as an Executive Member of the Early Career Researcher Group on Cardiac, Vascular, and Metabolic Medicine Theme at UNSW, Sydney. He added in his post that it is more of a leadership role than a researcher’s.

He recommended the youth invest at least 20% of their time building a leadership portfolio.

He often shares his thoughts with his viewers. Recently, he shared

“It is foolish to think that the best thing in the world will come with a guarantee. Our life is not guaranteed, so isn’t it beautiful and expensive?

Dr. Md Shajedur Rahman Shawon is a gem for his country’s youth. We wish him all-good success in the world and hereafter.

Oh! I forgot to mention that he also watches TV like a normal human being, besides studying. He’s passionate about cricket, as you can spot him out of the picture, and also loves to cook traditional Bangladeshi food.

Now that you are here and my 3304 words are completed. Sorry if I make you drowsy with my writing.

Our YSSE continuously tries to showcase good examples of skilled people like Dr. Shawon to encourage our young generation. Indeed Dr. Shajedur Rahman Shawon’s story is eye-opening for many of us as we use the “Talented” word for many successful people. But, no one sees behind the story their hard work and passion, which makes them all what they are now! We hope future generations will come forward like Dr. Shawon in the progressive research field to make it vast for the country.

We are at the very end of our story.

“Remember, we are our own enemy as we fill ourselves with negative thoughts. When life feels uncertain, nothing is working, no hope to cope; Recall just one thing: we are not less or more than anyone. We are all the same, and we can make it.”

I hope,trying to write Dr. Shawon’s success story did just a little justice to the outcome of the article.

So, please let me know your views and feedback in the comment section.Also share with your friends and family if this article about the wonderful story inspired you.

Still curious? Just go check out his social media. Trust me, you will end up learning educational things and many more.

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