Student Spotlight: Neelam Punjani, recipient of the Izaak Walton Killam Memorial Scholarship

Third year PhD student at the Faculty of Nursing receives the most prestigious and competitive graduate award administered by the University of Alberta

Allie Voisin - 13 June 2019

The esteemed Izaak Walton Killam Memorial Scholarship isn't handed out lightly. These award recipients are trailblazers in their fields who advance our collective store of knowledge and change the world with their vision. For Neelam Punjani, a third-year PhD student at the Faculty of Nursing, this scholarship brings her one step closer to making her vision of healthcare for girls in Pakistan a reality.

Punjani received her BScN and MScN at Aga Khan University School of Nursing and Midwifery from Karachi, Pakistan. Shortly after, she began working actively within the community advocating for young people's sexual and reproductive health and rights. Through this position, Punjani realized the tenuous mental health of young girls in Pakistan, which suffers due to a lack of sexual health education.

"These young girls end up developing fear, anxiety, low self esteem, guilt, shame, and depression because they don't have anyone they can talk to; this topic is not openly discussed in Pakistan," explained Punjani.

Her current topic of research for her PhD is inspired by seeing countless young girls in her home country unable to express themselves. Her research aims to find out what mental health issues arise due to a lack of safe space and open communication regarding sexual and reproductive health in Pakistan.

"My motivation is to give young girls and women the opportunity to access their sexual and reproductive health rights and provide them with awareness, support, and opportunities which they may never have had before due to the taboo attached to such topics," stated Punjani.

Punjani plans to do her data collection here in Canada, but with adolescent girls from Pakistan as her participants. She chose to complete her PhD at the University of Alberta not only because of the Faculty of Nursing's prestigious reputation, but also because Canada is a country were reproductive health is a topic that is open, if not welcomed into discussion.

"There are a lot of resources in Canada, and at the University of Alberta, that are available for my research interest that I'll be able to bring back to Pakistan to better serve the community.''

Punjani plans to use a small portion of the scholarship to fund her tuition costs; however, the majority of the money will go towards reaching out to adolescent populations in the communities where she will be able to extract important data for her study.

Punjani is extremely grateful for the support from the Faculty, and for the invaluable guidance from her supervisors and mentors, Elisavet Papathanasoglou and Kathleen Hegadoren.

"It's not just my hard work; they continually motivate me and support me. Their mentorship is why I'm where I am today."