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South Asian Heritage Month: Sadiyah Robbani

Web image for Sadiyah Robbani

I identify as a British Bangladeshi. Being British gives me a sense of belonging; it gives me the rights of citizenship and is where I contribute to society by working and volunteering. Being Bangladeshi speaks to me about my culture; the beliefs, arts, customs and habits passed down to me by my parents and their ancestors. One does not have a greater hold than the other; it is the combination of both which humbles me and fuels my desire to make the most out of life.

My parents came to the UK from Bangladesh in 1985. My father started working in a factory and my mother as a dressmaker, prior to settling into their more established roles as a civil servant and a crèche worker, respectively. I was born in the United Kingdom but I visit Bangladesh every three or four years for a holiday and to see my family. One particularly strange thing about being a child of immigrant parents is not regularly seeing people who would otherwise be intimately involved in your life. Nevertheless, I am very lucky to have relatives who always welcome me with open arms and shower me with love throughout the duration of my trip. Whilst it is a developing country, it is also a beautiful one. Not known to many, but it is home to the longest sea beach in the world - Cox's Bazar.

My heritage brings another dimension to my world. In Bangladeshi culture, we have a lot of get-togethers and share the love of food. Our gatherings are very fun, filled with vibrant colour and music. Rice is a staple dish, and virtually every meal features it. We also have a sweet tooth and share sweet treats with our friends and family to celebrate good news. Our national anthem titled ‘My Golden Bengal’ is an ode to the Motherland - personification of the country. The mother of Bengal represents not only biological motherness but its attributed characteristics such as protection, never ending love, consolation, care, and the beginning and end of life. A lot of our music centres around the beautiful landscapes of the country as well as the 1971 Liberation War; Bangladesh's fight for independence. Our national flag is a visual representation of both of these; green represents the natural land and red represents the bloodshed of those defending the nation.

Up until 1947, Bangladesh was part of the British empire. Formerly known as East Pakistan and part of India under British rule, Bangladesh initially developed thanks to the British. A structured political, legal and education system was formed, and the British brought economic development into the country which continues to flourish as demonstrated by the now world-famous clothing industries. Dhaka Medical College and Hospital was built by the British and to this day plays a huge role in the health sector of Bangladesh. Whilst this has allowed us to advance in comparison to other developing countries, Bangladesh is still lagging behind as a result of British rule. I believe the development of the nation, its values and talent have somewhat been lost and a lot of sectors weren’t able to develop their own identity as a result.

In my personal career, I have not come across or worked with many people of Bengali heritage. After completing my Masters, I worked in a lab to investigate reversing chemotherapy resistance in ovarian cancer. Whilst this sparked my interest in pursuing a career in clinical research, I found working in a lab to be quite isolating and was often working long hours. Prior to committing to a PhD, I wanted to explore what else was out there. I made a choice to shift from working with cells in a petri-dish to working with real life patients! I am grateful that several doors have opened for me since. One of the most rewarding parts of my current role is having the opportunity to support our clinicians in the NHS with the life-changing research they carry out on a daily basis.

A career in clinical research is less well-known and I believe there is a need to promote it to my community. From the Covid-19 pandemic alone, we understood just how crucial it is for detecting and diagnosing disease, developing a better understanding of disease and for developing treatments. As a STEM Ambassador, I have attended career events in secondary schools and sixth forms and spoken about my occupation. I feel passionately about highlighting the benefits of my line of work and getting the message out that whilst it is great to become a doctor, there are other fulfilling and rewarding roles in science.

My message to anyone hoping to pursue a career in clinical research is to be passionate about what you do, work hard, network and form good working relationships and doors will open for you.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.