How a Malaysian won a scholarship to save fish in Scotland

women in STEM
Nurimanina Najwa Shahrin won a British Council scholarship to study at Scotland's University of Stirling. Source: Nurimanina Najwa Shahrin

Nurimanina Najwa Shahrin is worried about fish. Specifically, how to keep them alive, healthy and productive. With the Global Women in STEM Scholarship, the Malaysian will be able to pursue an MSc in Aquatic Pathobiology at Scotland’s University of Stirling, a programme that will teach her the in’s and out’s of the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of aquatic animal diseases.

Her interest stemmed from a project she set up to keep a hatchery bio-secure and disease-free. In another field trial at the man-made Lake Temenggor in Malaysia, she learned about the complexities of experimental design, importance of communication, teamwork, accuracy in fish counts, counting methods, maintaining a “chain of custody”, following strict sampling protocol, and so on.

“The process of learning itself inspired me to learn more and apply for MSc in Aquatic Pathobiology,” she explains. “This is the most appropriate field for me as it is a study of the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of aquatic animal diseases in cultured organisms.”

Women in STEM currently make up only 29% of the workforce. That means less than one in three, of what’s the most important fields as we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution, are women. With her future master’s programme, Shahrin is set to bridge this crucial gender gap.

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Shahrin’s passion for Aquatic Pathobiology was sparked during projects she led in Malaysia. Source: Nurimanina Najwa Shahrin

We caught up with Shahrin to learn more about her Women in STEM scholarship and what she plans to do in the UK:

Walk us through winning the Global Women in STEM Scholarship and what it means for you.

As soon as I received an email from the British Council Scholarship for Women in STEM, I was incredibly excited and could hardly believe it. At the same time, I felt so grateful for the opportunity. 

I would like to thank the British Council for this once-in-a-lifetime chance because, without them, my dream of pursuing my MSc in the UK would forever have remained a dream. It’s a great honour to receive this scholarship.

For other women in STEM who want to apply for the same scholarship, what advice do you have?

I would tell them to try their best and never give up. This is a great opportunity provided by the British Council to embrace and encourage women in STEM.

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Shahrin could hardly believe she won the British Council Scholarship for Women in STEM. Source: Nurimanina Najwa Shahrin

What was the application for the Global Women in STEM Scholarship like?

I applied when I became aware of an advertisement through the University of Stirling’s website. I thought it was appropriate and timely for me to apply for the Global Women in STEM Scholarship. 

The process was quite straightforward and easy enough for everyone to apply but it required me to re-examine my life experiences and find out where my true passion lies. I also had to think about how to contribute to my country and show the British Council that I am a worthy candidate for this valuable award.

Why did you choose to pursue this at the University of Stirling?

Not only is the University of Stirling one of the top ones for studies in aquaculture, it’s also known for  extensive expertise and exposure to aquaculture practices. They have involvement in projects in different parts of the world including warm water aquaculture for Asian countries.

What are you looking forward to doing in Scotland?

I look forward to travelling around the UK and exploring new cities especially after being cooped up in Malaysia for so long. Whether it be a hiking trip or a cafe visit, or even just having fish and chips on the beach, I am pumped and excited to just be in Scotland. 

I will learn as much as I can about English and Scottish culture and am looking forward to making new friends from all over the world. I find it awesome that students from around the globe come to unis in the UK to get their degrees which makes it an ideal place to learn in a multicultural environment. 

What about your hometown in Malaysia? Tell us more about it, are there any places you would take us to visit?

I was born and raised in Gerik, Perak in Malaysia. I would bring you jungle trekking at Royal Belum Rainforest which holds a huge variety of species of flora and fauna. You could also take countless breathtaking photos at Temenggor Lake (including waterfalls) and visit the indigenous people of my country.

What cultural or food spots are you looking forward to visiting in Scotland?

I heard good things about Scottish fish and chips so that is on my list. Not to forget, I have to visit the iconic Edinburgh Castle and walk around the city and take in the unique buildings that inspired “Diagon Alley” in the Harry Potter books. I will not leave Scotland without a trip on the Jacobite Steam Train.

What do you predict you will miss from home and how do you plan to substitute it?

I will definitely miss my family but I cannot substitute them. I can always call them every single day while I also make new friends in Stirling. I will also miss the food: “nasi lemak” (Malaysian rice with curry dish), “rendang” (beef curry), and “ketupat” (Javanese rice cake), especially during Eid. 

However, I believe there are other Malay and Muslim students at the University of Stirling so I will try to cook these dishes and celebrate Eid together with them.

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“I look forward to travelling around the UK and exploring new cities especially after being cooped up in Malaysia for so long,” she says. Source: Nurimanina Najwa Shahrin

Do you think it will be hard as a foreigner to order food or talk with the locals in Scotland?

It shouldn’t be in the UK because the medium of communication there is English.

What’s one thing from the UK you’re planning to bring back to your friends and family back home?

I probably will bring back something that can remind them of Scotland like t-shirts they can wear every day.

Lastly, give us three fun facts about yourself.

I am the youngest child in a family with five siblings but I am the most independent. My parents sent me to boarding school when I was 16 so I had to learn how to get home on my own during school breaks. They never came to pick me up until I graduated high school and this happened during my diploma programme and bachelor’s degree course in Malaysia.

I love going out to explore the flora and fauna of our wild forests and I have quite an amazing eye when taking photos of nature. 

Lastly, I didn’t have pictures of my diploma convocation because I didn’t go. The convocation for my bachelor’s was cancelled because of COVID-19 so I am very much hoping to attend my master convocation at the University of Stirling.