Usama Ashrafs RIBES story

Going just a decade back, never in my wildest dreams had I ever thought of embarking on a beautiful journey of becoming a doctor. Not even the medical one as I lost the battle with that subject long ago. One thing I was certainly chasing all those years (and even now) was to put myself in the shoes of my best teachers. I am close to that, I believe.

Usama at River Po in Torino, Italy.

Hello to you, beautiful reader. I am Usama who, I would assume with 99% confidence, most likely came into this world crying just like billion others so far. Just like you, maybe? Well, then we have something in common. Pakistan was my home for the first 22 years of my life and in the blink of an eye with a little hesitation, I became a Civil Engineer. For some big decisions of life, I always like to plan myself and my thoughts inside out and I believe that was the tipping point during my final year of undergraduate studies leading me to my choice of pursuing a Master’s degree. I got lucky to be awarded an Erasmus Mundus Joint Master’s program in Hydroinformatics and Water Management (EuroAquae+) exactly when I wanted it. Or maybe I made my luck, who knows? I decided to go against many odds choosing the specialization of water management which was the driest topic back in my undergraduate studies. But I guess I was too impressed by Jack Ma’s statement that when people complain about something, there lies an opportunity. And, really yes, there was an opportunity. Those 2 years of my Erasmus Mundus were full of life. They upgraded Usama to Usama+.

A masked Usama Ashraf behind a flume that will be used to test fish swimming.

And then came the end of Erasmus and another big decision to be made. Lucky me or me making my luck, I got what I wanted. I strongly endorse the idea of doing things practically since only then do you understand how something functions. The RIBES project gives exactly the kind of work environment, blending office and fieldwork, that fascinates me the most. Four months into my Ph.D., I can already see myself growing professionally and personally. The opportunity to work on an interdisciplinary project combining my previous knowledge of water science and allowing me to learn something new and important about ecology is entrancing.

Usama Ashraf with Costantino Manes and Paolo Vezza by the portable flume.

Being a Marie Curie Early Stage Researcher (ESR08), I work as a doctorate candidate at Politecnico di Torino, Italy. Under the supervision of Costantino Manes, Claudio Comoglio, Daniel Nyqvist, and Paolo Vezza, I am working on fish kinematics, in close collaboration with ESR14 Gloria Mozzi, to provide explanations and innovative solutions for fish passage design zeroing in on upstream migrating freshwater fishes. The portable flume setup designed to specifically study fish hydrodynamics is a big blessing allowing us to set our foot in the wild to carry out experiments.

Usama and Gloria Mozzi with the portable flume.

Despite the challenges of COVID, we are certain to deliver some quality research output in the first year of our Ph.D.’s. I believe fishes are not aware of the fact that humanity is suffering from COVID but what they do know is that the same humanity, by fragmenting river, is affecting their migration and hence putting a barrier in their survival and reproduction. So, just like researchers around the world are putting a lot of effort into making a vaccine to save humanity from COVID, we should also make quality “vaccines” in form of solutions to other problems. Me, Gloria, and my other 13 fellow RIBES early stage researchers working across Europe hope to contribute to such a vaccine for fishes in dammed rivers. I am excited to meet all of them during our network schools. Hopefully without masks.

I would take this opportunity to sincerely thank the European Commission and RIBES team for giving me this splendid research position to let me play my part for a good cause.

Thank you for your attention.

Published on: 22/02/2021