Profile with Sara Khalid

Sara Khalid (Pakistan & Oriel 2008) is pursuing a DPhil at the University of Oxford. She holds an MSc in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Oxford and a BE from the National University of Sciences and Technology in Pakistan. Her research focuses on access to healthcare and technological innovation in-patient monitoring.

Rhodes Project: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Sara Khalid: I went through a few things in my mind that I wanted to be. I just knew that I didn't want to be a doctor. That's because I'm from Pakistan where, at least while I was growing up, medicine and teaching seemed to be the predominant career choice for many women. Me being me, I thought, “There are plenty of doctors around, so I’d like to be something else, something different.” So I quite wanted to be a pilot at one time, Prime Minister, architect, and eventually settled for engineering. Not so “different” after all, you could say! Funnily enough, healthcare now excites me, and my work as an engineer is all about technology to help doctors save lives.

Rhodes Project: What is your favorite thing to do in Pakistan?

Sara Khalid: I’ve been away from home for a while now. So whenever I am in Pakistan, I relish the chance to be around family and just do everyday things (without worrying about fighting the world’s fight for a while!), get involved with what my parents are up to. I must admit, half the excitement about being home is about getting to eat fresh, homemade daal chawal.

Rhodes Project: What was the most surprising part about coming to study at Oxford?

Sara Khalid: What wasn’t! Coming from a completely different geographical and cultural setting, everything about Oxford was very different and new. What was truly surprising was the lack of (a) hierarchical disparity in academic life – everyone respects everyone for their academic merit, and (b) the (truly agonizing) lack of warmth in the sunshine (when there is sun)! Oh, and the concept of housing space, that one was as hilarious as it was surprising!

Rhodes Project: You said you were not interested in medicine as a child, so how did you become interested in medical engineering?

Sara Khalid: Growing up, I increasingly wanted to do something that made a contribution to improvement in society. And it also had to be something that everybody else was not doing. And although I didn't want to be a doctor when I was a child, now I will admit that I think doctors do have one of the noblest professions. They directly save lives, and that must be quite fulfilling. I wanted to do something that would be fulfilling for myself. So I thought, “How can I use my knowledge and experience as an engineer to improve people's lives?” So with that background, when the Rhodes scholarship enabled me to study a subject of my choice at Oxford, I came across Oxford’s biomedical engineering degree, and went for it. The whole of my PhD research was about developing and improving patient monitoring systems, which I feel is one small way to make a contribution to the betterment of society.

Rhodes Project: Is there a particular project you would really like to work on in future?

Sara Khalid: I'm always thinking in the context of Pakistan because that's where I belong and that's my community to go back to serve. Pakistan is the perfect place for Rhodes scholars because – you name it, we have problems for you to solve! But to name few things that I really care about and would want to help change – education, healthcare, and urban planning.

Pakistan has huge scope for the emerging field of e-health or mobile-health, and there are some very inspirational people in the country doing amazing work in this area to make primary healthcare accessible to some very under-resourced areas. There's a group in Pakistan who set up the first paperless hospital in the country, and they're working on setting up tracking systems for pneumonia patients and their solutions have been implemented in South Asia and Africa. I'm quite interested in working with them.

Rhodes Project: You said that medicine is seen as a woman's profession in Pakistan. Why do you think that is?

Sara Khalid: Let me elaborate a little. I wouldn't say that it's seen as a woman's profession. Instead, I think it’s increasingly a female-dominated profession. I studied engineering where there were as almost as many female students in my year as male students. Pakistan’s female-to-male ratio in medicine is growing, and as a result the field is increasingly led by women. It’s a trend we’re seeing worldwide – women entering traditionally male-dominated professions and excelling.

Rhodes Project: What is your favorite activity to do that’s not related to work or studies?

Sara Khalid: It used to be reading and jogging, but since coming to Oxford, that list has expanded! I’ve rowed for my college and have taken up long-distance running. Every summer, I get involved in some Shakespeare action (backstage and on-stage).  My husband and I go for long walks around Oxfordshire on weekends with the university’s walking club. Most recently, I have joined a local tour company as a pro-bono Oxford tour guide. Free walking tour, anyone!

Rhodes Project: How did you find out about the Rhodes Scholarship?

Sara Khalid:  Promotion of the scholarship is being worked on, but sadly, it’s still not very widely known in Pakistan. There are other better-known scholarships, probably because they are better advertised. I was actually passed on the newspaper advert for the Rhodes scholarship by a family friend. When I applied, I would never have imagined that out of all the candidates in the entire country, I would get it. And it was just one scholarship! There were so many high-calibre candidates - the current quota of a single scholarship doesn’t do justice to the immense talent pool in the country.

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