Why a PhD in Kazakhstan makes perfect sense for this petroleum researcher

rizwan muneer
Rizwan Muneer, a PhD student from Pakistan who is now in pursuit of his STEM degree in Kazakhstan. Source: Rizwan Muneer

For Rizman Muneer, having a BSc and an MSc in Petroleum Engineering was not enough. Thirsty for knowledge, Muneer is now pursuing another STEM degree. The 36-year-old Pakistani is currently in his second year as a PhD candidate researching Petroleum Engineering in the School of Mining and Geosciences at Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan. “Knowledge has no end. This is especially true for science and technology. The study of technology in more advanced countries can only ensure that your journey in the pursuit of knowledge will not end,” Rizwan Muneer tells us. 

Kazakhstan is rich in oil and gas reserves, so from a practical viewpoint, Muneer decided to study at Nazarbayev University — a top-ranked university in the country with close links with its petroleum industry. In his opinion, the university’s focus on the practical was the key reason he chose to get his STEM degree here. Find out more below on what Muneer has to say in regards to Kazakhstan being his prime choice in pursuit of his STEM degree:

What were you doing before you decided to get your STEM degree in Kazakhstan?

I had a teaching job before coming to Kazakhstan for my PhD. I am a quick learner and I wanted to improve my qualifications which was also required to achieve the next level in my current job. Therefore, I decided to pursue a PhD in Petroleum Engineering to serve academia in a better and more competitive manner. I already have more than nine years teaching experience in Petroleum Engineering courses with field internships. 

What challenges do you face living in Kazakhstan, and how did you overcome them?

I arrived in Kazakhstan in September 2019, the first two to three months were challenging for me because of the transition and relocation from my own country, new environment, different food options, and the harsh but now manageable winter season. 

Muneer fell in love with the landscapes of Kazakhstan, such as Borabay. Source: Franck Fife/AFP

I overcame these challenges by making local friends and adapting myself to a new setting — I now enjoy Kazakhstani dishes. During the summer, I visited beautiful places near Nur-Sultan like Borabay, Shchuchinsk and Kokshetau, and really enjoyed the landscapes and scenery all around. 

How have you developed your research interests as a STEM student, and what is the implication of this research?

After my first semester, I started a Research Assistantship with my supervisor on a research project related to nanoparticles which is also my PhD research area. I have some previous experience with nanoparticles and their application in the petroleum industry, and luckily I got into the same research area. 

Now I am polishing my skills on how we can get the maximum benefit from emerging nanotechnology. Nanoparticles have the potential to increase oil recovery which is beneficial for the economic growth of oil-dependent countries like Kazakhstan. 

How have Nazarbayev University’s facilities and staff helped you thus far?

Being a STEM degree student at Nazarbayev University for the last year and a half, I am quite satisfied with the way faculty members teach and guide us. I am also satisfied with their excellent lab facilities, in-time assistance, guidance received from the International Students Association, serene environment in the dorms, and admirable health facilities on campus. 

I have also enjoyed getting in touch with the loving and helpful people of Kazakhstan along with the cultural similarities to Pakistan. I feel that getting an education in a country other than one’s own is an education in itself. Living in an environment with people having similar goals, aspirations, and quality research facilities is an enthralling experience in one’s academic life and is of considerable importance in one’s professional career. 

What do you enjoy most about living in Kazakhstan, and how does it stand out from other countries you’ve been to?

I like the snowfall in the winter season, and Kazakhstan has a long winter with lots of snow even though local people don’t really like winter. The northern areas of Pakistan also have snowfall in winter, but most roads are blocked and I had only a few visits to enjoy snow there. I have been to Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Saudi Arabia, but all these countries have extremely hot weather which I do not like at all!

Nur-Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan where Muneer has settled down. Source: Vyacheslav Oseledko/AFP

Do you have any advice for international students looking to enrol in a STEM degree?

I would advise international students to define their goals first and try hard to achieve them in the best possible way. Be in touch with your seniors and benefit from your experiences. I strongly recommend students from all over the world to come and join the global research community of Nazarbayev University to fulfil their future goals. 

Nazarbayev University has paved the way for me to complete my goals and as an international STEM student, I have received everything well beyond my expectations. I show my sincere gratitude towards Nazarbayev University’s management for providing such excellent opportunities and facilities to international students. 

What does the future hold for you? Do you have any plans in mind?

I am working hard to complete my PhD with a distinction and have six to eight research publications. After that, I plan to get a postdoctoral education to further enhance my skills in my research area. I also wish to work at Nazarbayev University as a faculty member or researcher, or anywhere in Kazakhstan to serve this country and get international teaching experience.