An organised Ivy Leaguer with methodical existence
When the name of a student doing his or her PhD at an Ivy League school comes to mind, the very first notion we develop about them is that they study 24/7 without any enjoyment. And hobbies? These are never possible for someone with an Ivy League school tag!
To deconstruct this very notion, the writer had a conversation with Ashfaq Ahmed, who is doing his PhD at Brown University. Being in Ivy League, along with his research projects and the immense pressure of graduate school, Ashfaq plays the ukulele, goes to the gym to stay fit, loves to cook deshi foods, and has a business as well.
Ashfaq Ahmed is currently a second-year PhD student who is studying oceanography - specifically, Arctic oceanography. His research focus is on quantifying the relationship between the sea ice floes and the underlying eddies for an accurate sea ice prediction model, which is crucial for navigation operations and conserving Arctic dynamics.
NASA and the US Navy fund these projects. Ashfaq received his bachelor's degree from the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) in Mechanical Engineering.
Ashfaq's future plans are fascinating since they include travelling from the estuary to the estuary, river to river, and ocean to ocean.
"Exploration, discovery, swimming, snow, aurora, marine ecosystem, sea-ice dynamics, deep ocean, polar bear, glacier – these are pretty much the keywords for my upcoming life, and I would like to keep things that way," Ashfaq added while talking about his future goals and what excites him as an oceanographer.
Despite the PhD and strong work ethic, Ashfaq Ahmed has several identities that keep him sane, motivated, and pumped up.
While counting the number of extracurricular activities, he added, "I am the president of Brown University Engineering Graduate Student Council where my responsibilities include a lot of administrative activities here. I am also the associate director of Shabash Fakibaj-LLC, TM. I devote a significant amount of time each week to ensuring that undergraduate students in Bangladesh receive appropriate and authentic resources from our team as they prepare to apply for higher education abroad."
These extra responsibilities are only a few parts of Ashfaq Ahmed's life. Along with these, he plays the ukulele, and as an intermediate-advanced level ukulele player, his Saturdays are only for it.
He is also passionate about hitting the gym to be fit enough. "I am super excited when I am cooking and cleaning. Most recently, I got my driving license, and I am pretty sure it will also bring new flavour to my life!"
When the writer asked how he manages his time to get everything else done, he mentioned, "The first rule of everything is 'Get organised!.' I will give myself an A+ for my organisation skills. I do procrastination, too, like everyone else. But I even try to schedule my procrastination in a predictive and organised way."
"I believe," he continued, "it is essential to be gentle with yourself. You are the one who takes care of yourself, thinks about yourself 24/7, and protects yourself to the best of your ability. So, be very soft and friendly when you are talking to yourself. Managing time is difficult, especially after you are past 25."
One should start seeing the real responsibilities that are showing up in life, as once we are adults, we are no longer confined to a defined syllabus for study. There is no one to make sure the clothes are clean, and the food is ready on the dining table; the code is written. So one needs to do everything by himself.
"I accept my current situation. I just accept it as my norm and work more. I often discuss it with my supervisor and colleagues when I find myself in a difficult situation. Because I believe – the only true shortcut in life is to find an expert and be their apprentice. I do not straightforwardly manage my time; it is always very dynamic and varies with the situation. If you are smart, you will never fall into the trap of the same problem twice," Ashfaq's view on getting organised with good time management skills.
Brown University is in Rhode Island, a small state full of colours. The campus of Brown is small, so people know each other well here.
"I know people (students, professors) from more than 15 different departments. Also, everyone is collaborating, helping one another, and appreciating others' efforts. People are very tolerant, helpful, charismatic, and respectful to everyone's culture, background, and outlook – which is rare even in other US schools."
The campus is also close to the Atlantic Ocean, so most often, students have the privilege of going to the Atlantic shore. It is a long, beautiful, relaxing view if one walks through.
Ashfaq further revealed, "The people are cool, crazy, and super funny. Lots of cultures are intermixed here, so Brown is always celebrating something (i.e., Diwali, Halloween)."
"Unfortunately, there is no Bengali community here. I am the only male PhD student from Bangladesh, so I have not seen much of the cultural festival that I can relate to."
The common question an Ivy Leaguer is asked is what to do to reach the destination of an Ivy League school from Bangladesh to pursue the dream of graduate school to get the tag of 'Dr.' after completing PhD.
Ashfaq Ahmed suggested the youths have well-researched publications, and several great publications make the journey smooth. At the same time, one must be smart and clear when interacting with potential professors because recommendations work like a charm.
"Your undergraduate CGPA must be excellent. I guess Ivy League schools set a very high threshold, i.e. CGPA of 3.90+. Along with this, you need to have a good GRE and TOEFL score. And yes, a strong research interest that aligns with your potential professor. "