Knowledge for a sustainable world

Joshua Muhumuza

Umar Muhammad is currently in the third year of his PhD programme based in the Department of Agriculture, Health and Environment at the Natural Resources Institute (NRI). He took five minutes out his day to talk to us about his inspiring life journey and desire to make an impact.

A high achiever in many respects, Umar’s life has been one of resilience, tenacity, and leadership. Born in a small town 100 miles from Lahore, Pakistan, he has had to overcome uncertainty about his school fees and long treks to school among other challenges to get to where he is. ‘I had to work eight hours a day to raise my stipend as an undergrad,’ he said. Luckily for Umar, owing to his brilliance and hard work, he has won scholarships from high school to his current studies at NRI.

Journey to NRI

As a first-generation student, Umar is the first in his family to attend university. After completing his Master's degree at the University of Kent in autumn 2021, he came across an advert for a PhD at NRI. ‘I was not sure if I would be selected for the PhD as I only had a few days to apply. So, I asked to speak to the programme lead, Dr. Conor Walsh, who was very resourceful in helping me structure my proposal,’ he recollected. In January 2021, Umar was offered a Vice Chancellor’s scholarship to study for his PhD. On his application experience, he said: ‘Right from the first call (with Conor) through to my interview, the team from NRI was very supportive and I couldn’t wait to come and study here.’ For his doctorate studies, he is exploring how to manage disruptive shocks in agri-food supply chains (AFSCs). Disruptive shocks comprise a variety of natural, social and economic events that destabilise or hinder the effective functioning of food supply chains. In his specific case, Umar is investigating the impact of disruptive shocks on AFSCs and how they impact different actors and stakeholders across supply chains from ‘farm to fork’.  Based on this, his project aims to build strategies to prepare for and better manage any potential future shocks affecting AFSCs.

Making an impact

Umar with PhD students from the School of Science after a recent social event at the Medway campus

Umar’s desire to make a difference is typified by the multiple roles he plays alongside his studies. Among other responsibilities, he is a Postgraduate Research and Teaching Assistant, President of the Pakistani Society at University of Greenwich and Social Secretary for the Postgraduate Society at NRI. He is also a member of the Greenwich Student Assembly and Executive member of the Board of Directors for the British Pakistani Student Portal of the Pakistan High Commission in London. ‘Most of these roles are voluntary but very rewarding. They are some of the ways I can make an impact,’ he explained. As a member of the Student Assembly for instance, he gets to represent students’ views and influence change at the University of Greenwich. The British Pakistani Student Portal helps mobilise students of Pakistani origin to benefit from networking and professional development opportunities offered by the High Commission. Umar is also president of the Pakistani Medway Society. The society provides a platform for Pakistani/British Pakistani students to network and share knowledge, experiences and job opportunities. Umar is also president of the Pakistani Medway Society. The society provides a platform for Pakistani/British Pakistani students to network and share knowledge, experiences and job opportunities.

On motivation and favourite moments at NRI

Umar taking new PhD students on a tour of the Medway campus

‘Overall, I set very high goals and I work hard to achieve them and that keeps me going,’ Umar disclosed. ‘For example, I joined NRI because it satisfied my main motivations: a passion for research, an aspiration to effect positive change and a desire to gain cutting edge research skills,’ he added. His favourite moments have been while he is working as a Postgraduate Research and Teaching Assistant. ‘As a teaching assistant, I get to teach students on the MSc. Pharmaceutical Science and MSc. Formulation Science how to make drugs which is a very worthwhile and exciting experience. It gives me the opportunity to share my knowledge and experience while also learning at the same time,’ he remarked.


Advice for fellow and prospective students

Umar’s encouragement to current and prospective students draws heavily on his own experience at NRI: ‘Seek out and stay engaged with as many opportunities as you can and try to always be impactful.’ His concluding words about NRI were as sincere as they were approving. ‘NRI is the backbone of the University of Greenwich with a vast research portfolio and a global impact. What’s more, the scientists here are always trying to solve the challenges facing the developing world, which is very important. It is the perfect place to kickstart your research journey,’ he observed.