After studying at a local English medium school in Narayanganj, Bangladesh, Ramisa Fariha went to Brown University, an Ivy League institution in the US
Born and raised in Narayanganj, Ramisa Fariha is the youngest and the only female child in her multigenerational family home. When others her age were playing with dolls, Ramisa enjoyed playing with aeroplanes, dinosaurs, toy guns and swords, and action figures.
She wrestled with her brothers, played cricket and football with them, and even went by a male pseudonym.
When she was in the eighth grade, almost every other female student had dropped out of her school but Ramisa. This caused the school principal to suggest to her parents to switch schools as the lack of female interaction may put her in discomfort.
But with supportive and adamant parents, this was no reason for her to change school.
Fast forward several years, Ramisa is now a Brown University graduate and a research associate at the Ivy League institution's Tripathi Lab.
Her journey, albeit filled with takeaways, was not an easy one.
"I have multiple health conditions, including PCOS. While growing up, I was heavily bullied for my size by children and adults alike," Ramisa shared bits of her journey with The Business Standard.
"Not only that, I have been a victim of several accounts of sexual molestation, assault, and abuse both in Bangladesh and abroad."
Ramisa has a registered learning disability from a concussion she suffered during her undergraduate years.
From a gifted student, she suddenly transformed to someone who struggled to carry out everyday tasks with dexterity. But she seized control and developed a system of processing new information.
To make things worse, she had her fair share of sexist teachers who said that women belong in the kitchen and educators who were not the kindest.
"Now I look back at them as character-building experiences and applaud myself for having survived those situations," she added.
The trauma is still there, but Ramisa refuses to call herself a victim.
Instead, she has risen as a survivor and her past experiences have only made her stronger.
Ramisa contracted jaundice during her final year of high school. She sat for her A-Level exams with an IV needle inserted in her arm. Once she passed A-Level, her cousin recommended she look up the admission requirements for Pennsylvania State University.
Ramisa's dream was to attend Brown University for a bachelor's programme. But she knew that her health condition had jeopardised her shot at the Ivy League institution.
Many sacrifices, innumerable sleepless nights, and a giant learning curve later, Ramisa landed at the Penn State Department of Biomedical Engineering.
Upon completing her undergraduate degree, Ramisa worked in the biomedical engineering field for a year to better prepare for graduate school.
"If I were to sum up the entire journey, I would say it has been an adequate mix of hard work and chasing dreams. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and where I wanted to be in life," she said while speaking about her journey from studying at a local English medium school in Narayanganj to becoming an alumni and research associate at an Ivy League institution.
Science always fascinated Ramisa.
She was a seventh grader when she first got to know about the artificial ovary project that Dr Jeff Morgan, an accomplished professor of medical science and the graduate programme director for the Biotechnology Graduate Program at Brown University, was working on.
Ramisa comes from a family of teachers and educators. Naturally, academia was always a top priority at home.
"As an attorney's daughter, pursuing law was always an option. But I have always enjoyed science classes and volunteering for causes more than anything else," she said.
Ramisa aimed to help others while pursuing her passion for biomedical engineering and came to the conclusion that this concentration was the perfect choice for her goals.
However, there is another less orthodox inspiration in Ramisa's life by the name of Dave Bautista, the WWE World Heavyweight Champion.
In seventh grade, Ramisa read Bautista's autobiography "Batista Unleashed", where he explicitly talked about his ex-wife Angie's journey with ovarian cancer.
The autobiography led Ramisa to Jeff's work, which led her to becoming a biomedical engineer.
"Today, Dave is one of the most significant people in my life, and while the whole world may know him as a WWE superstar or Drax – the destroyer from MCU, the biomedical department at Brown knows him as 'Ramisa's Bautista'," the trailblazer said.
When asked about the prerequisites for Bangladeshi students coming from humble beginnings who dream of pursuing a lively educational career abroad, Ramisa said that there is no such thing as a prerequisite but it is truly a matter of determination and fluidity on one's end and their ability to keep chasing their dreams.
Ramisa suggests that one has to be open to challenges in order to thrive in a well-established institution.
"They must accept that there is no alternative to hard work. Experiences vary greatly from person to person, institution to institution and among the programs one chooses," she said, adding that engineering programs are rigorous in general and require more time and effort than others.
Ramisa added, "Research is taxing, and it is very easy to give up once you have rounds of failed experiments. I think one must keep at it if they want to succeed in whatever field they choose."
She also suggests students to become involved in social activities for developing connections.
Finances and culture shocks are usually the two most worrisome factors for a Bangladeshi student planning to pursue education abroad.
On this, Ramisa said, "Students certainly need to spend their time understanding what being an international student in the US entails – finances, weather, culture, food etc. Being an international student involves paying out-of-state tuition, additional fees, and also paying for the visa and flights."
The expenses certainly make it difficult for low-income students to pursue education, and this is definitely something students should consider before applying, she added.
"Graduate school is a different ballgame altogether. Most PhD programs are fully funded, or at least require students to apply for grants to support themselves. Master's programmes vary from institution to institution," suggested Ramisa.
If undergraduate education is too expensive to bear, she recommends students look into graduate programmes instead of giving up on their dreams to pursue education abroad.
Working around reproductive health, Ramisa aims to bring her research to Bangladesh to help the sufferers here, but she is still at an early stage in her career.
"With all the skills in my arsenal right now, I would like to focus on reproductive health for men and women," she opined.
Speaking from her academic and industry research experience, Ramisa said that Bangladesh has the ability to produce necessary medical devices domestically, "And that is one sector I want to get involved in."