Sana ashraf ma social research

Sana Ashraf

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

I came to University of Leeds as an international student from Lahore city of Pakistan. My voyage to Leeds was accompanied with my husband and our seven years old wonderful boy. My previous qualifications have been in the field of Sociology, from the University of the Punjab, Lahore, Pakistan, which was also the alma mater of my father and hence carried great sentimental association. For the past six years, I have been linked with the teaching profession. I have been working as an external lecturer and used to teach courses of Sociology to the undergraduate students at both public and private sector universities of Pakistan.  

What made you want to apply to your course and to Leeds?

Getting into a prestigious institution like University of Leeds, that holds high academic ranking both at national and international level, is a dream of many pursuers and I was certainly one of them. I have been applying to study at this University since 2013, which might seem astonishing to those reading my answer right now. Almost every year I was successful in receiving an offer of place at this prestigious University due to my good academic standing. However, being an international student, I was not sound enough to afford the tuition fee for the programs I had been applying. The financial barriers always abstained me to pursue the offer and with a heavy heart I had to let it go to someone else. But I never gave up, I tried every year with a hope to get some financial assistance, and eventually that day came when I received an email confirming that I was one of the five international applicants selected for the Tetley and Lupton Scholarship at University of Leeds. I cannot express my feelings when I read that email as it was enclosing what I had been waiting to hear for a long time. Although, during the times of COVID-19 pandemic relocating to a new place was a challenging and crucial decision, but I was strongly determined to pursue the opportunity and honour, I was being awarded with. So, under these circumstances I eventually reached up my dreamed destination where I came across some wonderful staff and classmates.

What is it that makes you passionate about your area of study?

Since childhood I was keen in observing the social behaviours of people and the ways people pattern their social relationships. Moreover, being a Pakistani woman, I perceive it as a place where women empowerment is still a struggling phenomenon in the presence of strong patriarchal norms that subjugate their social position within the country. I felt great need of voicing the concerns and lived experiences of women exposed to gender discrimination and domestic violence. Therefore, to make a significant contribution through research within this sector, it was important for me to develop strong understanding of feminist epistemology. The course of Social Research Methods was ideal enough to introduce me to the interpretive and reflexive skills a feminist researcher must develop to better understand the problems of women that would eventually facilitate the policy makers of the country to introduce desired changes within the protection policies.

What do you think of your course so far – what aspects of the course have you enjoyed the most or are looking forward to the most?

My chosen program introduced me to highly scholastic learning exposures. Each day brought something new to my learning experience. All tutors placed their sincere efforts in meeting the course objectives through rigorous online teaching system which was something new for them. They had been putting commendable efforts in designing high quality reading recommendations, video lectures and group activities for the synchronous sessions that tremendously facilitated my conceptual understanding of the modules.

Furthermore, during my course, I really enjoyed the modules on Research Strategy and Design and Qualitative Research Methods delivered by Dr. Nick Emmel and Dr. Kahryn Hughes respectively. These modules enhanced my knowledge about the sensitivities of a research design and the usual pitfalls that might adversely affect a research project if overlooked. So, now I feel much more confident to develop a strong research proposal for my PhD studies, using the relevant skills learned during the program.

Moreover, the experience gained through dissertation during the uncertain times of COVID-19 pandemic developed new hallmarks of learning. Apparently conducting a research during the ongoing lockdowns, the widespread fears of casualties didn’t seem workable, but through the guidance provided by the University to complete data collection using online methods helped in overcoming the shortfall of usual physical face to face data collection approach. The knowledge gained through the research expertise of Dr. Karen Throsby and Dr. Yasmin Hussain, facilitated me in every possible way to complete my dissertation project. They had been providing with their constructive criticism about the sensitivities to be considered while designing research questions and following strong ethical principles within a research project that enhanced my understanding about importance of precision and data protection sensitivities.

What would you say about the learning facilities at the University of Leeds?

I came from a country whose pedagogical approach is entirely different from that offered at University of Leeds. When I started my course here, I realized that I must put in much more to reach up to the required academic standards of the University. Moreover, being an international applicant, I experienced a backlash in academic writing due to inadequate language standards and limited exposure within academic writing. Hence, being traumatized like any other international student I also underperformed within my first few assignments due to lack of familiarity with the desired quality. However, soon I began to witness gradual improvement within my submitted works after focusing on the feedbacks provided by the course moderators that began my actual learning process. I received enormous support by the teaching faculty in the forms of their valuable feedbacks and the capacity building workshops offered by University’s Library services. The online workshops offered by the library assisted me in developing the relevant skills while structuring an essay, writing statistical analysis, and drafting dissertation.  Moreover, the online library facility had been very helpful in locating the PDF versions of desired reading materials as well as efficient arrangement of the requested reading materials if not found available online.

Moreover, I found the teaching staff of the University as tremendously supportive for the students. Even during the times of pandemic, they have delivered high academic quality and remained very supportive in meeting all sorts of challenges. I praise and express my deep gratitude to the faculty members who had been putting in multiple efforts to enhance the learning exposure of their students through both synchronous sessions and the video lectures. They had also been successful in maintaining the multicultural aura of the classroom where sharing of experiences by students coming from diversified backgrounds were encouraged giving them a feeling of inclusion. They were always readily available to their students both at their emails and Microsoft teams links to facilitate them whenever needed.  

How would you describe the student support and community at Leeds? Have you taken part in any co-curricular or social events you would like to mention?

The student support and community at Leeds University had been very active and supportive throughout the academic year. University of Leeds was always found deeply concerned to keep their students protected during the COVID pandemic. The student support team had been offering timely help to the students who had contracted COVID virus and wished to isolate. Moreover, they had been arranging safety COVID screening tests for the students who had either been leaving or arriving campus from other stations. They had also been working hard to disseminate the information regarding financial help to students who were adversely affected during their stay in Leeds within the times of pandemic. I personally wished to volunteer with my support as a student during such challenging times but being constrained with my familial responsibilities to look after my child and his studies within the unsettling times of the year I couldn’t play my role the way I had imagined before arriving at the campus.

What other activities are available for students to take part in outside of their studies, and which ones have you tried out yourself?

There are uncountable opportunities that can be availed by the students during their stay at the University of Leeds, but in my case, I had to stay much cautious due to the additional familial responsibilities. During pandemic, my son spent most of the time at home with online learning during national lockdown and occasional self-isolation during regular school days due to any suspected case within his school. Likewise, due to these uncertainties, I was also not prepared to look forwards to avail any babysitter services due to the increasing number of COVID cases. Hence, I was partially aware that in the presence of my inevitable responsibilities that could adversely affect any additional roles taken at University. Consequently, I temporarily decided not to take a formal responsibility until I could find some reliable arrangements for home roles. I believe that if it had been normal days of the year, I could have been in a stronger position to contribute within the social events at the University.

What do you think about Leeds as a city?

Leeds is a beautiful city with a serene landscape. It is surrounded by beautiful hills and thick plantation that makes it a treat to one’s eyes. I love walking around the city and by now can recall most of the routes leading to some prominent locations like Kirkstall area, City Centre, Beeston, Hyde Park, Burley Road, Roundhay and Headingley. Moreover, being an international student my experience within Leeds has also been very homely. I could locate many Pakistanis closer to my neighbourhood that helped adjusting me and my family to a new place. Furthermore, my experience with the local people of Leeds has also been very optimistic. I found them very gentle and warm, which also turned beneficial for my son who started his school in Leeds and within no time he developed close affiliation with the teaching staff of his school and classmates.

What would you say to anyone thinking of applying to your course?

Based on my experience, I would strongly recommend the newcomers to consider applying for this course that can enhance their learning potentials within the fields of research methods. The course modules have been perfectly designed dig out the hidden potentials of the aspirants and the knowledge gained through the scholastic discussions with the course moderators and convenors would enhance their overall capacity to think out of the box. The course reading materials, the supportive attitudes of the faculty members and the constructive criticisms on submitted work take the learning experience of the students to a new high level, that prepares them well for their aspired careers both in the fields of research and academia.

What do you plan to do once you’ve finished your course? What are you career aspirations?

My career plans have been centred around academic domain for quite long. My future endeavours include pursuing a PhD degree in the milieu of my subject area, but before that I believe working with some institution or organization will give me an opportunity to empirically apply the research skills I learnt during my course. This will not only enhance my research experience within applied social research but will also introduce me to different learning platforms and fieldworks. Conclusively, I expect to receive high quality learning exposure during my stay at UK as this in once in a lifetime opportunity for an international applicant like me. I believe that these experiences will not only enhance my career growth but will also help me to improve the learning capacities of my students from home country.