Student from Bangladesh Fulfilling Career, Research Goals in UAPB Agricultural Regulations Program


Pine Bluff, AR — As she begins her final semester of graduate studies in agricultural regulations, Tasbida Sultana has been reflecting on the path that led her to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff in the first place. It all started in 2016 when her husband, Atikur Rahman, moved to Little Rock, Arkansas from their home in Dhaka, Bangladesh to pursue a Ph.D. degree.

“As my husband was getting established in the U.S., I stayed in Bangladesh to take care of our young son, Rafid Abrar,” she said. “In 2019, my son and I were able to move to Arkansas. It was a really big transition. I experienced culture shock, especially since my English skills were not so good at the time.”

Sultana stayed at home for three years to take care of her son. During that time, she pondered on what she would do once he was old enough to go to school – her mind kept going back to higher education. Since she earned a degree in medicine in Bangladesh, she considered medical school, but was soon discouraged after learning how expensive applying for medical school can be.

“Considering my lifelong interest in biology, I started looking at programs in biology and biomedical sciences,” she said. “I received several offers from institutions out of state, however, I needed access to scholarships and also wanted to study closer to home.”

Sultana found the answer she was looking for when she met with faculty of the UAPB Department of Agriculture. Dr. Shahidul Islam, graduate coordinator, reassured her that scholarships were available and that pursuing a master’s degree in agricultural regulations would be ideal for someone with her interests and educational background. After being accepted in the program, she realized the

agricultural regulations program was the perfect way to integrate her experience from medical/human biology with a new field.

Sultana started conducting research with Dr. Islam, her advisor, on the antimicrobial and antioxidant properties of plant leaves.

“At first, this type of research seemed like a big transition from my previous work experience – but then I started seeing links between human cell biology and plant biology,” she said. “Dr. Islam and I have been studying the leaves from plants such as sweetpotato, bottle gourd, bitter gourd and pumpkin. Because of their positive properties, the leaves from these plants can be used to make antibiotics or in the treatment of chronic diseases.”

Dr. Islam said Sultana’s scholastic career at UAPB has so far included being awarded at research competitions, the submission of two scientific publications to peer reviewed research journals and the presentation of research at four scientific conferences.

“Tasbida impresses me with her enthusiasm in her research activities, professional knowledge in her field and skill and dedication to her work,” Dr. Islam said. “Her academic performance is also excellent, and she still carries a GPA of 4.0. Tasbida is goal-oriented and a gifted critical thinker. She is trustworthy and takes up responsibilities cheerfully. Her friends and classmates love her and speak very well of her.”

Sultana’s paper titled “Antimicrobial and antioxidant properties of the acetone extracts of the leaves of Lagenaria siceraria and Cucurbita pepo” was recently accepted for publication in the scientific journal Food Chemistry Advances.

“As I continue my research, I would like to test the compounds in plants that provide the most health benefits to people and improve the overall quality of agricultural products,” Sultana said. “Phytochemicals in plants act as natural pesticides. If we can better understand these properties in plants, perhaps we can gradually transition from the use of synthetic pesticides in agriculture to the use of natural plant-based pesticides.”

Sultana said her education at UAPB has helped her develop many new skills.

“Over the course of the last two years, I have attended several conferences and had to present my research outcomes,” she said. “When presenting scientific posters, students from different universities would approach me with questions and advice. I would have to explain my research procedures and describe the next phases of the projects. I really got a lot out of this constructive exchange of information and ideas with students and professors from institutions all over the country.”

She found a lot of inspiration in a course in molecular biology with Dr. Sathish Kumar Ponniah, associate professor of plant science.

“The course was very interesting and I learned valuable skills such as the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) laboratory technique for rapidly producing copies of a specific segment of DNA and the gel electrophoresis technique for separating mixtures of DNA, RNA or proteins,” she said.

As she wraps up her graduate studies, Sultana is considering pursuing a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences.

“This field addresses the most urgent medical challenges including newly-emerging infectious diseases and cancer,” she said. “Doctoral studies in this area will prepare me for a career in education, research or the health care sector.”

The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.