Dr. Lubna Anjum

UAF Scholars return home with more than just lab experience. Dr. Anjum and other female scholars are breaking ground through their USPCAS-AFS scholar exchanges.

Dr. Lubna Anjum operates an infrared camera as part of her field training.
Dr. Lubna Anjum operates an infrared camera as part of her field training.

Dr. Lubna Anjum operates an infrared camera as part of her field training.

Dr. Lubna Anjum operates an infrared camera as part of her field training.

After six months at the University of California, Davis, visiting scholar Dr. Lubna Anjum took many lessons back to her native Pakistan, including new academic and social skills, plans for new irrigation research to benefit Pakistani farmers, and connections to UC Davis researchers that will benefit her throughout her career. But perhaps most importantly, Dr. Anjum returned with new ways of thinking about ideas she once took for granted – ideas like the purpose of academic research itself, and the roles women and men play in a country where gender expectations limit the educational, academic and career opportunities for women.

“In six months here, a lot of my thinking changed,” Anjum said. “It’s very good to think in a different way, and have the confidence to decide to do things differently.”

A Goal of the Program

Dr. Anjum is one of six faculty members from the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad – four of them women – who have spent six months partnered with UC Davis researchers in their specialty areas through a program called the U.S. Pakistan Center for Advanced Studies in Agriculture and Food Security (USPCAS-AFS).

Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the program links UC Davis, the leading agriculture research university in the world, with Pakistan’s top agriculture school, the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, or UAF. It’s part of a larger USAID program that links leading U.S. and Pakistani universities in energy and water, as well as agriculture.

“Through faculty exchanges and joint research, the Centers for Advanced Studies are designed to help Pakistan through a transfer of knowledge and technology to their leading universities and researchers,” explained Dr. James Hill, associate dean emeritus of International Programs for the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis. “But two explicit goals of this program are to improve extension education and promote gender equality in Pakistan.”

Extension programs help transfer new agriculture advances made by university researchers to growers in the field, government agencies and other stakeholders. A staple of the American agricultural university system, extension is handled by separate ministries in Pakistan and other countries whose education and governing systems evolved from the British model and researchers often don’t have direct connections to growers at all.

Dr. Daniele Zaccaria, an assistant cooperative extension specialist in the UC Davis Department of Land, Air and Water Resources, served as Anjum’s on-campus mentor, and made sure Anjum got a lot of exposure to extension and outreach activities.

“Some of the research they do is very theoretical and not very applied, and often entails modeling rather than data collection from growers’ fields,” he said. “It took a while for her to get into the mindset of applied research to benefit production agriculture. A mission-oriented approach is not something she was used to.”

Throughout the winter, Anjum accompanied Zaccaria to conferences, growers’ meetings and other industry events, and saw the direct interaction between researchers, officials from state agencies and commodity boards, crop and irrigation consultants and individual growers. Hesitant to interact at first, Anjum became more comfortable and engaged over time.

“I think she got exposed to a lot more stuff than the other members of her group, because they were more lab based,” Zaccaria said. “We move around a lot more when we do extension work.”

Advancing Gender Equality

Through the Centers for Advanced Studies, UC Davis is also working with the administration at UAF to increase the number of women in its agriculture programs. Supporting female faculty like Anjum is one way to make the university more welcoming to women.

“The four women we had in this first class of visiting scholars are all outstanding,” Hill said. “Lubna Anjum, Amir Bibi, Siddra Ijaz and Bushra Sultana are going to be role models back in Pakistan. But there will continue to be challenges about gender roles.”

Dr. Anjum said when she enrolled at UAF, many young women in Pakistan were simply not allowed to go to university, and she was only able to go because of her father, who was on the administrative staff at UAF, supported the idea.

“I was in the agriculture engineering program, and there were not very many females,” she said. “I think there were three women in a class of 35.”
Anjum stayed on as a research associate after graduation and earned a master’s degree in 2007.

“In 2014, I earned my Ph.D. and learned later that I was the first woman to earn a doctorate in agriculture engineering in Pakistan,” she said.

Coming to Davis was both a shock and an awakening for Anjum.

“I had no idea about the outside world,” she said. “In Pakistan, I was sheltered. Here, everyone is so independent. It’s very different.”

In Pakistan, young faculty consult with their elders, seeking permission before they do almost anything. Anjum did that at Davis with Zaccaria, who told her to knock it off and just be proactive and engaging.

“I had 30 years of habits I needed to break in about 30 days,” she said, laughing. “It was an adjustment.”

There were several adjustments. Her traditional long dress proved unwieldy for field work, so Anjum started wearing long shirts and pants in the field - equally modest but more mobile attire.

“And I’m not sure I will continue to wear these shoes back home,” she said, pointing at a pair of pink high tops. “But they’re so comfortable and practical, I think it should be compulsory to wear joggers.”

At Davis, Anjum worked with Zaccaria on one of his many field experiments, and plans to do both more applied research and teaching in the field back at UAF. She’ll have support. Other visitors from UAF have also seen the need to change the way hands-on education is done there.

In January, two members of the veterinary faculty, Dr. Zafar Qureshi and Dr. Mishba Ijaz, spent a month at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, focused on ideas they could bring back to improve their curriculum. And one moment that stood out for both was the day students spent long hours in the field inoculating calves – with the women in the class working side-by-side and just as hard as the men.

“You don’t see that in our program,” Qureshi said, “and many of our female students won’t think they’re capable of it.”

But they need to, said Ijaz, the youngest woman on the vet school faculty.

“We’re going to have to encourage our female students,” she said. “To be good veterinarians, they need to experience all of these things.”

Something Anjum experienced in Davis is an ease around gender issues which she hadn’t experienced in Pakistan.

“It’s very easy to live here,” she said. “You don’t have to think about a lot of things. You’re seen as a human, not just as a male or a female. That’s what I want in Pakistan. I want to do my work, and be a scientist. Be a human.”

Profile written by Steve Elliot.