"Throughout my graduate student journey, I've gained valuable life lessons. First and foremost, I've developed resilience, learning to persevere through challenges.  Additionally, I have had to navigated through a clash of cultures, adapting to a new way of life that encourages questioning outcomes."

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Makhfirat Olimshoeva

January 02, 2024

Individualized Interdisciplinary Program doctoral student in the Faculty of Education

Tell us a little about yourself, including what inspires you to learn and continue in your chosen field

I am a faculty member at the University of Central Asia in Tajikistan and currently in the fourth year of my PhD studies at SFU.

I come from Khorog, the capital of the Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous region in south-central Tajikistan, home to the Pamir Mountain range often also referred to as the ‘Roof of the world’. I therefore take great pride in being both a 'Pamiri' and a mountain person which further enhances my sense of proud culture and identity.

I am deeply passionate about continuously seeking and sharing knowledge on a global scale. What motivates me to learn is the belief that knowledge can change lives, connect different cultures, and bring about positive change, regardless of where it comes from. This belief drives my academic journey and motivates me to strive for a significant impact in the pursuit of knowledge.

Why did you choose to come to SFU?

SFU seemed to present exceptional research prospects, a diverse global atmosphere, open access and an opportunity to immerse myself in natural beauty—qualities that resonate with my background and passion for knowledge and cultural connection.

SFU's dedication to fostering positive change through community engagement and sustainability mirrors my own values, was also a key factor. What particularly attracted me the most was the sense that SFU is family-friendly, offering a supportive environment for loved ones.

How would you describe your research or your program to a family member?

My research focuses on what are the most effective ways for university students to excel in their studies and achieve their goals. It is to uncover the secrets to thriving academically.

This research holds significant importance because it aids teachers, parents, and students in gaining insights into the best strategies for learning, staying motivated, and realizing their aspirations in university. Think of it as having a roadmap that directs us towards enhancing the overall university experience for all.

What three (3) keywords would you use to describe your research?

Success Strategies, Academic Achievement, Motivation

How have your courses, RA-ships, TA-ships, or non-academic school experiences contributed to your academic and/or professional development?

My in-class, taught courses I completed were instrumental in expanding my subject knowledge and sharpened my problem-solving skills for my research. The insights gained from these courses significantly influenced and contributed to the success of my research and analytical abilities.

In addition to the classroom learning, non-academic experiences were equally vital, refining my leadership, teamwork, and time management skills, while also creating valuable networking opportunities essential for my future.

Have you been the recipient of any major or donor-funded awards? If so, please tell us which ones and a little about how the awards have impacted your studies and/or research

I have been very fortunate and blessed to have received many awards throughout my life and studies, all of which have significantly impacted my research journey.

I first received a bilateral national scholarship to pursue my master's degree, and subsequently, for my doctoral studies, I was honoured with a scholarship from the University of Central Asia (UCA) and Simon Frazer University (SFU) as part of our faculty development program.

Recently, I was also awarded a research grant to cover the cost of my research. These scholarships and grants have not only eased the impossible financial obstacles but have also provided me with the necessary resources and opportunities to conduct in-depth research, contributing significantly to the advancement of my academic pursuits.

What have been the most valuable lessons you've learned along your graduate student journey (or in becoming a graduate student)?

Throughout my graduate student journey, I've gained valuable life lessons. First and foremost, I've developed resilience, learning to persevere through challenges. Additionally, I have had to navigated through a clash of cultures, adapting to a new way of life that encourages questioning outcomes.

Secondly, effective time management and organization have been essential for balancing my academic and my personal and family life with my children.

Thirdly, collaboration, mentorship and constant support of my supervisors have broadened my horizons both in enriching ways but also in surprising ways.

Being a graduate student has taught me to appreciate critical thinking and creativity both in life and in research. My aim has been not only to learn, but also to innovate, challenge, and solve. To do this, I need to constantly examine my assumptions, seek feedback, and consider different perspectives.

This skill I learned from my committee supervisors, especially Professors Parin Dossa, Roumi Ilieva and Jeff Derksen at SFU and Professor Salim Sumar from my university. They have also widened my horizons in both enriching and surprising ways, exposing me to new fields, methods, and collaborations, as well as revealing the limitations, uncertainties, and difficulties of research. I value their wisdom, generosity, and patience.

Lastly, I've embraced change and diverse perspectives as integral to growth and innovation in the dynamic academic world.

How do you approach networking and building connections in and outside of your academic community?

Resilience and adaptability are crucial skills for success, especially when faced with limited contact during doctoral studies. To address this challenge, I've made a conscious effort to proactively seek networking opportunities both within and outside my academic community.

Within my academic community, I ensure active participation in virtual discussions, webinars, and any available collaborative projects. Engaging in class discussions and reaching out to peers through digital platforms has helped maintain a sense of connection.

Beyond the academic community, I've actively used professional networking platforms like LinkedIn to connect with experts and fellow researchers in my field. I attend virtual conferences and webinars to expand my network and stay updated on the latest developments in my area of study.

My faith and being a member of the global Ismaili Muslim community have always been important to me and have influenced every aspect of my life. Upon arriving in Canada, connecting with my community was seamless, providing a strong sense of belonging and aiding in my cultural and religious integration, crucial for my success here. This bond inspired me to give back professionally. Being an academic, I committed myself to volunteer teaching, spending four hours every weekend educating young Ismaili Muslim children about our faith and respect towards other and comparative faiths.

I also had the opportunity to enhance adult education programs, again bringing my professional expertise to this vital area. These roles have not only allowed me to contribute to my community but have also fostered my professional and personal growth. Through these engagements, I've gained a deeper appreciation for cultural diversity and learned to respect the values and beliefs of different communities.

While limited contact can be a challenge, I believe that building a strong network is crucial for success in doctoral studies and beyond. One just needs a few ‘solid’ and ‘unconditional’ friends or colleagues as in life!

What are some tips for balancing your academic and personal life?

Balancing academic and personal life requires effective and clear boundaries, self-care, open communication, and prioritisation. A structured schedule and regular breaks help manage academic demands, while setting boundaries ensures personal time remains undisturbed. Communication with loved ones will always fosters support, and prioritising key goals helps strike a healthy balance.

It was challenging to balance my academic and personal life, especially as a single parent in Canada with two kids. But I made it my goal to spend quality time with my children. We did activities that helped us bond and create memories, even for a few moments every day. I also built a support network that was priceless. This involved connecting with other parents, friends, or community members who could lend a hand or give advice when I needed it. I realized that I couldn't be perfect at everything when balancing studies and parenting.

I also made self-care a priority, knowing that taking care of myself was important for having the energy and focus for both my academic and parenting goals. Lastly, I learned to be flexible and adaptable to changing situations, whether they were about my children's needs or academic deadlines. This was essential for handling my duties effectively.

If you could dedicate your research to anyone (past, present and/or future), who would that be and why?

I would also dedicate my research to those selfless academics with pure intentions who tirelessly work to create opportunities for others. By dedicating my research to such individuals, I hope to honour their unwavering dedication to creating a more inclusive and equitable educational landscape.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

In conclusion, studying abroad has for me been a profound and transformative experience that has reshaped every aspect of life, and it's important to acknowledge that not all changes are pleasant. However, amidst the challenges, it's crucial to embrace what is good, cherish the positive moments, and place trust in the few who have been true companions on this remarkable journey. They who provide invaluable support and enrich the journey with shared experiences, making the path forward a little brighter and more manageable. Thank them today and always.

Looking back on my journey, I am deeply thankful for the opportunities given by Simon Frazer University and University of Central Asia, particularly SFU International and Central Asian Faculty Development Program. Their support, through scholarships and academic resources, was vital for my success. These institutions gave me not only an education but also a community and a sense of belonging. I also want to express my sincere gratitude to the private donors who funded me at the most crucial time of my studies. Their generosity was more than financial support; it was a source of hope and motivation during my hardest times. This support helped me to concentrate on my studies and my children without the immense pressure of financial stress.

These experiences of getting scholarships and funding have shown me the priceless impact of generosity and the importance of community support in education. As I move forward, I take with me not only the knowledge and skills I've acquired but also a deep sense of gratitude and a dedication to giving back to the community in any way I can.


Contact Makhfirat:makhfirat_olimshoeva@sfu.ca