July 9, 2019
It was the largest single donation a British university has ever received. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation donated 210 million US dollars to Cambridge University in 2000. The money is used for funding an international postgraduate scholarship program for students who perform outstandingly in academics and are socially committed. One of these scholarships has been awarded to a graduate of Jacobs University Bremen: Mahlaqua Noor from Pakistan.
“I'm very happy that I received the scholarship and that I am part of the Gates community now," says Mahlaqua, who studied biochemistry and cell biology at Jacobs University and finished her bachelor's degree this year with top marks. Around 6000 young people from all over the world applied for the 90 scholarships. It provides Mahlaqua, aged 23, with financial security for her conferral of a doctorate at one of the best universities in the world. In addition, it gives her access to a worldwide, dynamic and committed network of more than 1600 scholarship holders from 100 countries, doing research in many different disciplines. They are among the best in their fields of research and are united by the desire to make the world a better place. Mahlaqua fully shares this attitude: "I want my research to have a global impact and to improve the lives of those infected with viral diseases".
In her doctoral thesis, she will deal with a virus called “human cytomegalovirus” (HCMV). Many people are infected with it without showing any symptoms. The destructive effect of the virus mostly unfolds in combination with other diseases, such as cancer or AIDS. In her doctoral thesis, Mahlaqua will investigate the underlying mechanisms by which the virus becomes active in some individuals and attacks their immune systems, while it does not in others. "By understanding how the virus manipulates the immune system, we can develop drugs to curtail and treat HCMV infections," she states.
Her studies at Jacobs University opened the door to the Gates Fellowship. Early access to laboratory courses, involvement in professors' research from the first semester onwards, intensive supervision and gaining international experience through Summer Undergraduate Research Program at the New York University School of Medicine were among the factors that made her application strong. Dr. Klaudia Brix, Professor of cell biology at Jacobs University, was supervising Mahlaquas bachelor’s thesis. She also played a big role in her student’s successful application. "I learned pretty much everything I know about science from her. Her unwavering support and mentorship throughout my years of study at Jacobs has been life-changing in many ways."
Mahlaqua is also engaged in science outside the laboratory: As an assistant editor for "The Journal of Young Investigators", she is reviewing scientific manuscripts from undergraduates. "Although undergraduates achieve important research results, it is generally not published by well-known science journals. We recognize their research by providing undergraduates a platform to publish and communicate their results to a wider academic audience." Science communication is important to her. She believes that the academic community should be more open, transmitting its work in a generally more understandable way and actively break down barriers to share knowledge with the wider public. She was also one of the presidents of "Explore Bremen", an initiative of students at Jacobs University who are committed to mentor children from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds.
Mahlaqua grew up in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. Graduates of Jacobs University had recommended the international university in Bremen to her. Being able to work in the laboratory early-on was important to her as well as studying at a small university with a close relationship to her professors. She is often asked about her home country, especially about the role of women. She finds the image of Pakistan in the German public misunderstood and distorted. "We are a very hospitable country with a rich cultural diversity. Many women hold seats in the parliament and pursue careers in the military, the medical field, and the entertainment industry.”
Also in terms of cuisine Pakistan has a lot to offer. Mahlaqua especially misses her mother's biryani, a rice dish. She last visited Pakistan two years ago. She hopes to be able to see her family this Christmas again. Mahlaqua will spend the summer in Bremen, conducting research in the laboratory of Prof. Klaudia Brix. In September she is going to pack her suitcases and travel on to Cambridge, to start her new academic adventure.