My name is Maham Munir, born on 5th of August,1996 in Khewra, district Jehlum, Pakistan and I am delighted to share my personal voyage — a tale of growth, determination, and an unwavering love for the natural world.
My academic journey began in Saudi Arabia, where I began the first chapters of my academic career. I eventually returned to Pakistan to complete my secondary education. There, I resided in the extraordinary salt range region located between the plains of Indus and Jehlum rivers, in the Northern region of Pakistan, which is home to the world’s largest salt range—a natural marvel.
I entered the field of biological sciences by enrolling in a bachelor’s degree programme, motivated by my natural curiosity. Throughout my academic career, I immersed myself in the fascinating fields of zoology, botany, and chemistry. Nonetheless, a rather regrettable incident during a zoology lab diminished my initial enthusiasm for the subject. I found comfort in the field of botany, which quickly became the focus of my master’s degree studies.
During the summer months’ vacation, I went on expeditions to collect flora accompanied by renowned professors. These field trips provided me with invaluable experiences, which increased my interest in Botany. During my master’s summer vacations, I experimented in the disciplines of pathology, genetics, ecology, systematics, and taxonomy and gained hands-on experience in each lab. In addition, as a class leader, I organised fascinating field excursions and herbarium visits for my compatriots, under the watchful supervision of our esteemed professors.
My visit to the national museum’s herbarium marked a significant turning point in my life. It was there that I encountered the enthralling domain of bryophytes, which had long been overlooked and undervalued within Pakistan’s borders. As the curator of the herbarium described their significance for conservation, a spark was ignited within me, and I resolved to devote my MPhil research to the discipline of bryology.
Bryology was my primary motivation for pursuing MPhil. Every subsequent field excursion afforded me the chance to painstakingly collect specimens of mosses and liverworts I happened upon; their intricate beauty captured by my camera lens. I sought the assistance of my taxonomy professor, Dr. Mushtaq Ahmed, for identification of these specimens. The collection and study of bryophytes quickly evolved into a passionate hobby that compelled me to capture their essence and pursue additional information. Although my professor possessed extraordinary taxonomic knowledge, his expertise resided primarily in the identification of higher plants, leaving me to navigate the complex world of bryophyte identification with limited assistance. Nonetheless, my insatiable interest in bryophytes continued to grow. For my MPhil research, I subsequently shifted my focus to the taxonomy and systematics laboratory. My esteemed supervisor, Dr. Mushtaq, presided over a crucial meeting to select research topics during the second semester. During this time, I boldly proposed as my research endeavour the systematic identification of bryophytes in Pakistan. To my delight, he approved of my proposal. During this period, I also began lecturing bachelor’s students in botany and working as a freelance academic writer to fund my research.
I set out on numerous field trips to meticulously collect lichen and liverwort samples. Even the perilous Nanga Parbat Mountain (deadliest mountain of Pakistan) was no match for my unyielding resolve, as I climbed it with gusto. Nevertheless, the voyage did not conclude with sample collection. Following collecting, I was faced with the processes of preservation and laboratory analysis. This phase posed a formidable obstacle, as I lacked the direction of an experienced supervisor. My supervisor, professors, and laboratory colleagues lacked knowledge of any established protocols for the microscopic analysis of bryophytes. I reached out to numerous professors and students via digital platforms, primarily Facebook, in search of advice.
Fortuitously, I made contact with a Brazilian named Tiberio De Vale, who provided invaluable assistance and advice as a fellow student who shared my passion. During this period, I was also introduced to Bryonet.L, an excellent bryological resource, courtesy of researcher Chris Wagner. Bryonet.L proved to be an invaluable resource, connecting me with distinguished bryologists from around the world. In the absence of direct access to a bryophyte expert, I utilised unconventional methods for washing and staining bryophytes in the lab. These endeavour, while at times peculiar, presented tapestry of experimentation, yielding intriguing outcomes and supplying vital insights.
With the assistance of Bryonet.L, I was able to construct transparencies and obtain identifications through sheer determination and resourcefulness’ and the collective knowledge of bryologists from around the world. Nonetheless, as I neared the conclusion of my investigation, unanticipated family circumstances interrupted my progress abruptly.
I felt compelled to abandon my endeavour and take a one-year break. Nonetheless, my passion remained unabated, and after this transient setback, I resolutely resumed my path and ultimately completed my MPhil. In my extensive dissertation, I attempted to address every barrier and difficulty I encountered during my research. I constructed a comprehensive methodology, delineating each stage in minute detail, with the intention of providing future bryophyte devotees with a road map for navigating the complex terrain I once traversed. My goal was to eliminate the obstacles that discouraged students from pursuing bryology as a research topic.
Through my dissertation, I hoped to inspire the next generation of bryologists, thereby preserving the continuity of knowledge in Pakistan on this subject. Throughout this arduous process, I encountered substantial discouragement from within and beyond my social orbit. Sceptics questioned my ability to conduct investigations in remote and difficult terrains, contending that the constraints associated with such endeavour were insurmountable for a woman.
And yet, here I am, having overcome obstacles and completing my investigation. While its significance may not be felt on a global scale, I am confident that my work will have a profound effect on aspiring bryophyte enthusiasts in my country. As I have my sights set on earning a Ph.D. in bryology and becoming an esteemed expert in this field, I fervently pursue funded positions that will allow me to continue my intellectual voyage by uncovering additional aspects of bryophyte knowledge and elucidating their ecological significance under the supervision of an expert bryologist professor-with high expectations.