“Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” – Theodore Roosevelt
After completing my undergraduate and master’s degree in Economics from University of Dhaka, I worked as a researcher for about two years in two Multidisciplinary Policy Oriented research organization. I developed my skill as a researcher and a dedication towards research work. When I came to Virginia Tech, for pursuing a doctorate degree in Economics, I was excited! All I had, in abundance, was passion. I did not know what I was going to do (not that I have figured everything out by now). All I knew that I would be doing something amazing that would change the world for better.
Time passed, I did no research in the first two years of my PhD program. All I did was studying for classes and getting through the dreadful Qualifier exam! In the Spring of 2015, I finally started working on a research project for my Dissertation. YAY! In one moment, I was excited, in another, I was lost! There was always something missing! I did not know why I am even doing the research work, I didn’t really feeling any sense of satisfaction. Later I figured, what I was missing.
I did not have the much needed perspective back then. I found that perspective when I went to conduct a field level survey of 800 vegetable farmers of Bangladesh and spend the whole summer of 2015 doing that. Being born in a middle class family, I have seen my share of struggles. But, at the same time, I had the privilege of being well-fed, having quality education, healthcare etc. I knew there were people who were in a worse situation than us; I knew there were people working so hard to keep their head above water; I knew there were so much we can do to make the world a better place for all of us. But I never had the opportunity to meet people who are actually different than me (off-course that was mostly because 1) my parents were always protective of me and 2) I am an introverted person).
While doing the survey, I met so many people, did get to know about their lives, their struggles, their day-to-day challenges. Being on the road, walking miles after miles, in a hot and humid Summer (temperature ranged between 34 to 40 degrees Celsius) to track down the farmers, was anything but easy! I worked 7am to 8pm non-stop, I ate a single meal every day, I was dehydrated, I cried in my hotel at night and I lost a lot of weight in 3 months. But I have gained the perspective! I came out of that as a different person.
Through the survey work, I did get to talk with so many people (farmers and their family members), interact with the female farmers (primary as well as secondary) and female members of the households on issues regarding their unequal access to resources and weak bargaining power in decision making. I did get to talk about their relationship, their level of schooling and sometimes the hardship. To be honest, there was no fixed topic of discussion. I absorbed everything that they had to share with me. By far, that was the most rewarding experiences of my life. Because only in those moments, I could see how my work can play a significant role in changing the lives of these people. I understood the gravity of my work and I appreciated the chance to contribute in a field that has so much potential in making the everyday life of the poor and marginally poor people from developing countries. Every time, I think of how my work and research outcome can impact the life of those people I met in the summer of 2015, I get goosebumps and skip a heartbeat every time (I do not have any better phrase to explain that feeling). It is exactly like the magical sensation of falling in love. That gives me gratitude and fills my heart with joy.
The other joyful part of my research is that I get to learn so much every single day (with some occasional exceptions when I curse myself for coming back to graduate school). I love to learn. As an individual, I have always felt that my purpose in this world is to seek as much as knowledge and accumulate wisdom along the way. I can understand how corny it might sound, but it has been the only way to satisfy my thirst in this spiritual quest, I call life!
—to be continued—