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‘Just reach out’

Bangladeshi spring graduate overcomes obstacles to finish PhD

Part of a special feature celebrating the success of Memorial's graduates. This feature coincides with spring 2018 convocation ceremonies.


By Susan White

It took a car accident for a Bangladeshi PhD student to realize that she didn’t have to be alone.

Bishakha Mazumdar, who will collect her doctoral degree in management during convocation ceremonies at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre on Wednesday, May 30, struggled in her first year in Canada.

She moved to St. John’s with her husband, Swomitra Palit, who is pursuing a PhD in physics at Memorial, and their young son.

An executive-level banker at a major financial institution in Chattogram, a city on Bangladesh’s southeastern coast, Ms. Mazumdar suddenly found herself unemployed and house-bound in her new home without the support of friends and family and a new culture and new language.

“It was obviously a big change,” she said.

Challenges kept coming

Ms. Mazumdar decided to return to school, having previously completed a bachelor of business administration and master of business administration in her home country, and joined Memorial’s Faculty of Business Administration in September 2013.

Initially, she wanted to examine issues around gender and leadership, but eventually decided to focus on bridge employment – specifically, the ways retirees are treated when they return to the workforce.

But the challenges kept coming.

In March of 2014, just over a year after arriving in Canada, she was in a car crash in which both vehicles were seriously damaged. Everyone involved escaped without major injury but Ms. Mazumdar experienced lingering issues with pain, stress and anxiety.

“The car accident reminded me that every day I’m living is one day of my life that should be lived properly.” — Bishakha Mazumdar

Around the same time, her son was diagnosed with amblyopia, a vision development disorder commonly known as lazy eye, which meant having to wear patches on his eyes for up to two-and-a-half hours each day.

In 2015 her gall bladder was removed; in 2017, she and her husband welcomed their second child, a daughter.

Though there were friends who wanted to help during each of these challenges, she was reluctant to accept it.

The turning point

The car accident, she says, was a turning point.

Before that, she says, she internalized her stress and emotion. She tried to handle everything on her own, tried “to be everything” for her child.

“I had to remember this is what life is. It’s not like one day I’ll graduate and I’ll start living my life — no. It doesn’t happen that way. The car accident reminded me that every day I’m living is one day of my life that should be lived properly.”

Ms. Mazumdar coped by reaching out: to friends, to family members, to peers, to her supervisors Dr. Amy Warren and Dr. Travor Brown, and to the various medical and counselling services available at Memorial.

“I did think, ‘Maybe I’ll not be able to do it,’ but they just told me to take my time,” she said of Drs. Brown and Warren. “It was so helpful. They kept me right on track.”

Their support, as well as that of her husband, her fellow students and her mother, who made the trip from Bangladesh to help out at home several times, was integral to reaching her goal: her doctoral degree.

Advice for fellow students

Her advice for newcomers to Canada? Ask for help when you need it.

“People who come from faraway countries and face a lot of challenges, I just want to highlight open up, take the help you need,” she said. “People don’t judge here for seeking help. Just reach out. There’s no point in suffering.”

Other papers related to Ms. Mazumdar’s studies include Extending the Understanding of Bridge Employment: A Critical Analysis, which has been accepted for publication in an upcoming issue of Personnel Review, and Bridge Employment Experience: An Exploratory Approach, which was one of three finalists for the Careers Division 2018 Michael Driver Best Applied Paper Award at a conference for the Academy of Management.


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