On-Award

Scholar spotlight: Arifa Jahan Ema

Arifa Jahan Ema, Australia Awards scholar, Monash University (Photo: supplied)

Arifa Jahan Ema, from Bangladesh, is a recently mobilised Australia Awards scholar studying a Master of Philosophy at Monash University’s Peninsula campus. Arifa’s research focuses on rehabilitation after a spinal cord injury; specifically, how students reintegrate academically after such injuries. She hopes to apply her research when she returns to Bangladesh by working with students with a spinal cord injury who are returning to education.

Before applying for an Australia Awards Scholarship, Arifa worked as a Clinical Occupational Therapist for the Centre for Rehabilitation of the Paralysed in Dhaka for three and a half years. ‘I have always wanted to undertake a higher research degree,’ Arifa said. ‘I assisted a former colleague on a research project conducted as part of his PhD studies at La Trobe University, and it was this experience that encouraged me to apply for the Scholarship.’

Despite only being halfway through the first year of her master’s degree, Arifa recently submitted an abstract for a paper to be presented at the 57th Annual Scientific Meeting of the International Spinal Cord Society and the 25th Meeting of the Australian and New Zealand Spinal Cord Society. These meetings will be held jointly in Sydney in September and Arifa is already looking forward to attending. As well as presenting her paper, she is eager to meet and network with international experts, attend presentations, and learn about innovations and new practices in her field. In particular, she is excited to meet Dr Mary Jane Mulcahey, Professor of Occupational Therapy at Thomas Jefferson University’s College of Rehabilitation Sciences, USA. Dr Mulcahey is a well-known researcher in the field of spinal cord injury rehabilitation and she will be presenting as part of a panel during the conference.

When asked how she feels about networking, Arifa said, ‘I get nervous before events and networking opportunities, but as soon as I start talking about my industry I feel myself relax, I feel confident and I enjoy the experience.’ She has already formed a network of other international students who are also studying in the field of spinal cord injury rehabilitation, finding it extremely useful to compare and contrast the field with other countries as well as Australia. Her network has become a great resource for her to discover innovations in the field, and Arifa plans to keep in touch with these students once she returns to Bangladesh. ‘Connecting and collaborating with international experts is extremely useful,’ she said.

Arifa will spend the next 12 months preparing her paper, presenting it in September, planning for additional publications, returning to Bangladesh to conduct her research, and working through her results and findings. She is really enjoying her studies and has had some new ideas since starting her Scholarship. ‘I am looking into the possibility of becoming an academic in a few years, and working with my network to develop a Master of Occupational Therapy. There is currently no such program in Bangladesh,’ Arifa said.

Arifa has also been busy taking part in some initiatives organised by Monash University outside of her studies. She contributed to the Monash Human Book, a book designed for occupational therapy students, in which she talked about her background and experience of working in the sector in Bangladesh. She also participated in a career conference, presenting on the reasons behind her decision to become an occupational therapist and her life journey to get to where she is today.

Arifa’s story highlights the value of getting involved in professional development activities and networking with fellow scholars from Australia (and other countries), academics and practitioners in your field of work. Not only can networking provide fascinating insights at the time of meeting, but connections and linkages can also be useful to draw on for support and ideas when you are back in your home country. Taking part in professional development activities while undertaking an Australia Awards Scholarship also gives you a well-deserved break from study to reset your mind, as well as teaching you valuable transferable skills.

If you have a story you’d like to share with Australia Awards, we’d love to hear from you. You can get in touch to tell us about a conference you’ve attended, networks you’ve built or professional development opportunities you’ve undertaken while in Australia. We’d also like to hear from you if you’ve been involved in volunteering or work experience. Send your stories to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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