Coming from a university teaching background, Dr. Mudassir Asrar, has recently joined the Pakistan Council for Science and Technology (PCST) as Chairperson and wants to take it to new heights. She is an expert on indigenous medicinal plants of Pakistan which hold great potential of holding a cure for various diseases. She has been conferred three of the worlds most prestigious post doctoral research fellowships – Fulbright, Commonwealth and Alexander von Humboldt. During her exclusive interview with Technology Times, Dr. Mudassir explained her academic and professional journey particularly in the field of botany
Firstly, give brief account of yourself.
Dr. Mudassir Asrar: Love for flowers and plants is the motto of my life. I decided to graduate in Botany but at that time in my native town – Quetta there was no botany department in the university so I decided to go to Karachi to pursue a masters degree in Botany from Karachi University. There I completed my masters degree. Later in 1980, I returned to my hometown. Fortunately, the University of Balochistan at that time decided to start a Botany Department so I joined the department as a lecturer. Since then I started research on algae, medicinal plants and environment despite limited facilities and countless problems. However, I was able to complete my M.Phil and published a few papers in the first six years of my service and got promoted to an Assistant Professor in 1986. Soon after completing M.Phil, I set out to pursue a Ph.D degree. With kids, teaching and departmental responsibilities, I found it very difficult to concentrate on my Ph.D research. However, my firm resolve helped me complete my Ph.D. despite of all difficulties.
What are you other personal achievements?
Since 1981 I have been supervising students research. Being a productive scientist of Pakistan and an HEC approved PhD supervisor I have supervised 14 PhD/M.Phil graduates. Currently, ten students are pursuing their M.Phil and PhD degrees under my supervision. More than 50 students have completed their masters thesis under my supervision. I especially encouraged female students in this field. I try to accompany them to their research locations which are sometimes in far flung areas of the province like Gawadar, Harnai, Lasbella, Loralai, Punjgur, Turbat etc. At present many of my students are serving at different key positions in the province. I remained a students advisor of the department for 25 years during which I helped students solve academic, social, personal, family problems. I also served as a Chairperson of the department for three years during which I upgraded several aspects of the Botany Department. I revised 20-year-old syllabi and improved equipment and infrastructure of the department and started series of seminars/lectures by the eminent scientists. I have also written three books on Fresh water algae from Balochistan and nutritional status of herbs, shrubs and trees of Balochistan as fodder.
Have you researched on medicinal plants of Pakistan?
Yes, I carried out research on indigenous medicinal plants of Pakistan which hold great potential of holding a cure for various diseases. In my research on medicinal plants, I examined the bioactive plant extracts and purified, isolated and identified the biologically active compounds. I have found some interesting results and have published them in my recent publications. I have published more than 60 papers, in international and national journals. I have attended and presented a several papers/posters in more than 80 prestigious conferences in USA and UK international and national conferences in Pakistan. We have initiated a floriculture cell in the province to provide technical assistance to people cultivating flowers for commercial purposes whereby I am supervising many biotechnology projects which include the cultivation of a large number of economically important plant species in various areas of Balochistan. I have also established Botanical garden in which a variety of plants have been grown including medicinal plants, endangered species, economically important plants, unique plants and drought resistant species. I have also established two labs of plant tissues culture and a lab of Environmental Protection Agency. Through the tissue culture lab we have recently started providing a number of commercially important high quality plants to the farmers and growers. Our first projects include the cultivation of pineapple, banana and orchids for this purpose. We are also culturing some plants for conservation as their forests in our area are fast depleting.
Give brief account of your organisation.
Pakistan Council for Science and Technology (PCST) is responsible to advise the government on science and technology policies and plans and suggest measures for their promotion, development and application in the country. It is also mandated to seek expert opinion and advice in different SandT areas by constituting think tanks or expert committees as and when required. PCST is also the Secretariat of the National Commission for Science and Technology (NCST), the apex decision-making body for SandT development, headed by the Prime Minister. PCST, in consultation with the federal ministries and provincial departments, major RandD organizations and universities, eminent scientists and technologists, and representatives of industrial sector, plans for civilian SandT and RandD activities in the country. These plans are reviewed by the Executive Committee of the National Commission for Science and Technology (ECNCST) before they are presented to NCST for approval.
What is your annual budget for RPA?
During the financial year 2011-12, we have budget of Rs 23 million for research productivity award. We had demanded Rs 43 million but considering the financial crisis in the country, we got only half the amount. We utilize the budget for buying an expensive international indexing package every year. We buy the indexing package from Thomson Reuters/ISI Web of Knowledge ; it has sub-citation and index factor. It is important to mention that the index factor changes every year and we have to purchase the latest version every year. This creates problems as sometimes people complain we have reduced their impact factor. As the system is online they could calculate the impact factor themselves but they dont release that they are using an older version. We cannot do any changes manually all the number citations reported are accurate and crystal clear as it worked out through the authentic indexing package.
Some people are interested in getting their names cited everywhere. Dont they play some tricks?
Sometimes the main authors have to include the names of their departmental heads and seniors in their research publications. In some cases, the names of friends and lab fellows are also included. This is either done under social pressure of seniors or to oblige. We have devised the mechanism of discouraging this practice. We divide the impact factor of the journal by the number of authors who have published the research paper. Similarly the number of citations for a particular paper is also divided by the the number of authors. We still have to revise the RPA criteria and work a lot more to reduce such issues that bring a bad name to our scientific community by such practices.
What programmes are you running?
We are making an action plan in collaboration with Ministry of SandT for implementation of National science, technology and innovation policy. Our future projects include developing a database of all the organizations, containing information of their employees and their areas of skills. It will be helping in understanding the skills level of expertise in various sectors at the organizational level. We are working on an especial project for the women related to gender mainstreaming. Its database is near completion and will be online once it gets completed. We are setting up the first dope testing lab in Pakistan and a natural product development lab in collaboration with scientists from United States. We are also making a database for the climatic records of Pakistan. We also are focusing on databases as they give you better indicators for proper planning. We are establishing a technology incubator centre at Quaid-i-Azam University. We are also starting a program “education for all through ICT”.
Have you sought assistance from NADRA for these databases?
We havent approached them as yet but we can approach them in future. Our work is different from them as they collect general data while we are looking at specific data. But you are right in a sense that even for compiling specific data sometimes you have to take help from the general data. If NADRA shares with us the data related to women then that could be beneficial for us as well as its utilization for the gender mainstreaming.