Prof Dr. Ashraf is currently serving as Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation. He completed his PhD. from University of Liverpool, UK in 1986. In recognition of his services he was honored with the title of HEC Distinguished National Professor by the HEC in 2005. He was also ranked as top scientist in Biological Sciences in the COMSTECH ranking of scientists and engineers of all OIC countries in 2012. He has rich experience of academia and has worked for four different universities of Pakistan at high positions.
Q 1: Tell us briefly the highlights of your career?
Prof Dr Ashraf: I did my PhD from the University of Liverpool, UK in 1986. Soon after completing my PhD work there, I was offered a post-doctoral position for a period of 8 months. In 1993, I earned US Fulbright Award and proceeded to University of Arizona Tucson (USA). I devised a number of new techniques for screening and selection of salt tolerant crop cultivars. Moreover, I selected salt tolerant lines of various crops such as canola, cotton, maize, pearl millet, and different pulse crops. In addition, a selection line of spring wheat “S-24” was developed by me after rigorous selection procedure using physiological, molecular and genetic means, and it is currently being used as a promising salt tolerant line at different national and international institutions. This line was also tested by a group of scientists at CIMMYT, Mexico, as well as those of Oman, England, and many local centers. I was bestowed with the title of HEC Distinguished National Professor by the Higher Education Commission (HEC) in 2005. I was extremely pleased to secure First Position in Biosciences in the COMSTECH ranking of scientists and engineers of all OIC countries in 2012. My milestone achievement is to earn the Lifetime Achievement Award, 2013, by the HEC. I have rich experience of academia; I have been privileged to work at high positions for four different reputed universities that include Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, Sargodha University, and Muhammad Nawaz Shareef University of Agriculture, Multan.
Q 2: COMSTECH has declared you an eminent scientist as you secured first position in Islamic world ranking, what are the criteria for this ranking?
Prof Dr Ashraf: There are two major criterions; first one is impact factor of journal, second one is citation index. COMSTECH has done a brilliant job because it is unprecedented that any organization has ranked all institutions within the OIC countries. In Biological sciences, I was ranked as top scientist and hope to maintain the position in coming years through hard work.
Q 3: What is the mandate of PSF and what is your role to achieve that?
Prof Dr Ashraf: There are two premier objectives of Pakistan Science Foundation (PSF), popularization and promotion of science. PSF is funding many projects of different nature in various disciplines. But there is a conundrum to address which is being asked by stakeholders, government, and society that what sort of outcome has been achieved by PSF after funding all those projects? After taking charge as Chairman PSF, I have changed the process of funding. We have constituted a pre selection committee which is responsible for scrutinizing the proposals whether they are worthy to be funded or not. In fact, our focus is to fund only those projects that can give tangible, sustainable output to society whether in form of a product, technology, variety or protocol or any other distinctive attribute. Based on these parameters, PSF will be funding benevolently to the principal investigator. We do pre screening; technical committee carefully reviews all proposals which are finally approved by the executive committee. I am also revamping all the programs of PSF in the same way. Similarly, in science popularization, my focus is on rural areas, we have caravans and 7 centers across the country. PSF mandate is very broad in terms, it cover schools, universities and R&D organizations. PSF also funds universities research and support their science popularization related activities. Similarly, there are some parallel programs that PSF and HEC both work for. We are also focusing on primary to inter college level for science popularization at grass root level.
Q 4: Science popularization is neglected subject in Pakistan. What is your opinion to address this issue?
Prof Dr Ashraf: The caravans or sub centers of PSF are doing a splendid job for the sake of science popularization. They can visit most of the schools and colleges to popularize science and display science tools for practical demonstration to the students provided their number is increased. At present, their visit is scheduled on weekly or bi weekly basis. I believe that this program should be developed for which funding is required and for that matter PSF is doing its utmost efforts and has already requested concerned ministry to substantially enhance the funding so that science popularization mission could be attained uninterrupted.
Q 5: Why private sector is not encouraged to step forward and work for science popularization?
Prof Dr Ashraf: We welcome private sector. Personally I am coordinating with private sector organizations to popularize science in Pakistan. To determine ambition is imperative as some of the organizations work voluntarily and they have worked a lot in science education and several other sectors. It is a matter of interest at first. Fruitful results will only be yielded only if we work with passion and carry an ambition along with.
We are working closely with private sector. In recent past, PSF have successfully organized “Invention to Innovation Summit”, which was focused on research promotion of academia. Now, we intend to expand the event to other provinces as well. PSF will fully encourage any organization or sector with in all aspects within its domain because product based, result oriented project is in benefit of the society.
Q 6: How do you see relationship between scientists, journalists and public? How important is their coordination for science popularization?
Prof Dr Ashraf: I believe journalists have a critical role to play and interaction of scientists and journalists must be very strong so that scientific knowledge is disseminated at a broader scale and large number of people gets aware with the scientific and technological advancement. Media in both forms print or electronic has significant role to play in information broadcasting as well as society mobilization that is why I advised PSF media cell team to tie strong relationship with external media and it is highly active. Moreover, I have also advised team to remain in positive dimension and stay away from negativity. A combined IT & Media Cell is soon going to establish in PSF which will play an active role for the above said purpose.
Q 7: How we can excel in Higher Education while our primary and secondary level science education is far below the minimum standards?
Prof Dr Ashraf: Pakistan can excel in any field provided the human resource and infrastructure are developed. Human resource must be capable, well trained and skilled whereas infrastructure should be optimum to enhance the research activities. Every year latest models of equipment are introduced. Research in which data is obtained through previous equipment models can’t be published. This is one of our impairments as some of the equipments are cost intensive and only few organizations can afford to purchase them. Once we overcome these two issues, we can also promote science at a level paralletl to the developed countries. Ministry of Science & Technology (MoST) is doing commendable work by revamping the concerned organizations for science promotion and assisting them to achieve their goals.
Q 8: What is your message for our readers?
Prof Dr Ashraf: We need to strengthen science education at grass root level so that we get academically sound batch of students with optimum science knowledge at graduate level. There should be various career alternatives apart from becoming Doctor or Engineer. For nations progress students have to opt science education because we need scientists as they can play more effective role in development and progress of the country keeping in view the need of hour.
Q 9: What are your comments about Technology Times and Tech TV?
Prof Dr Ashraf: I firmly believe that you have stepped forward and I fervidly acknowledge your efforts in science popularization. Technology Times and Tech TV have genuinely adopted the noble notion of “Science & technology is the key to success” in its true spirit. This is need of the present time and our country can only progress through science and technological development which can only be attained by virtue of science popularization. I humbly submit my well wishes to you and hope that you broaden its canvas to create more awareness among masses.
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