Shabanar Nisar from Pakistan

The reason I decided to study physics is quite unusual. I choose to study physics not because I had read about the big bang, or I got fascinated by the dark energy or dark matter, or found that Einstein’s mass-energy equation was too beautiful to resist. It was because I was socially outcast and the only way to pass my time was to think about the workings of the nature. I took Physics and Maths in High school because I was tired of listening to my parents and people around me saying that girls can’t do physics and math.

“The natural subject for them to study is biology; math and Physics is the domain of boys where girls should never dare to enter”, I was constantly reminded by my father (who was a very loving and caring person otherwise) . As a result, both of my sisters studied biology and my brothers became engineers.

I grew up in a household where gender roles were quite well-defined and since childhood I was repeatedly told that you are not allowed to do this, this and this because you are not a boy, or you have to behave in a certain way because you are a girl. So choices were pretty limited and options were few for me. This inequality issue was quite disturbing to me and it always irritated me since I was 6-7 year old. So as a protest, in my middle school , I studied Persian instead of home economics in which they usually taught how to boil an egg or make rice. Whenever I heard that girls can’t do math and physics, the desire ripened inside me to prove this stereotype wrong. When I finally took ‘forbidden’ subjects in my high school, I remember that everyone was angry and upset on learning of my choices.

Fortunately, I was given the luxury to study the subjects of my choice, after lengthy debates. It was during my bachelors years when I learned that physics wasn’t an “ego” issue only, but also a very interesting subject which explains the things at the most fundamental level. It’s the same thing which explains rainbows, the formation of day and night, our ability to stay grounded and also more fancy things like black holes, dark matter and time travel. After my masters exams, I took the GRE and TOEFL exams and applied to different American universities. Only my elder siblings knew that I was applying for a PhD., my parents didn’t have any clue. I got very reasonable offers from many universities and the time had come to tell my parents as well.

They were very upset, especially my mom. All hell broke loose. I was reminded again and again that marriage is the destination of a girl, PhD is not. At the end, with the help of my brother, my father got convinced and I was allowed to follow my dream. That was back in 2002. , In those days going abroad for higher studies was more like a dream, but now things have improved a lot in this respect and a lot of girls are living their dreams.