Postgraduate Student Life @ CUHK
from Iran
PhD Student in Education
HKPFS Awardee
Studying for a doctorate at CUHK, a top-ranked university in Hong Kong, is like a dream come true.

The distance from Tehran, the capital of Iran, to Hong Kong is more than 6,000 km. But it doesn’t matter to professional swimming coach Sima Dastamooz, as CUHK is a top university that helps realise her aspiration to be a sports scientist.

Sima obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees with outstanding performance from the best state universities in Iran. Browsing through a ranking website in Iran three years ago, the high ranking of CUHK caught her attention. “The Department of Sports Science and Physical Education (SSPE) at CUHK is ranked the 49th in the world. The research by the faculty staff has remarkable citations. That’s impressive,” she says.

Diving into the unknown

Without hesitation, Sima wrote an email enquiry to the Department’s chairperson Professor Cindy Sit Hui-ping and got an encouraging reply. After obtaining the Hong Kong PhD Fellowship Scheme (HKPFS) award, she chose to pursue her PhD at CUHK.

Studying abroad is hard, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not knowing anyone in Hong Kong, Sima’s pre-dormitory quarantine life was so lonely that it pushed her into a state of depression. The situation was completely reversed when she met her supervisor Professor Sit in person. “She introduced me to other students. They welcomed me with open arms and helped me a lot to adapt to living in Hong Kong. We’ve become friends. I enjoy camping and exploring different aspects in the city with them.”


Healing effects of physical activities

Sima obtained her master’s degree in human motor control and learning at the University of Tehran. She was ranked first in research performance and got the highest GPA, 19.19 out of 20, in the faculty. With her outstanding academic performance, she had the opportunity to teach undergraduates swimming and fitness at her alma mater.

Her swim coaching experience has inspired her to help adolescents have a better life. “As a teacher, I’ve seen so many students at puberty suffering from stress because of the changes happening in their bodies. Some may even hurt themselves. However, it has been proven that exercising improves cognitive function and can help adolescents overcome their negativity.”

Sima aims at working out solutions to aid the young generation, especially those who have special educational needs such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. “They struggle with complications such as motor dysfunction and inattention. I hope to identify the mechanisms underlying the healing power of physical activities.”


Positive research environment

The systematic academic guidance at CUHK is conducive to Sima’s academic pursuits. After showing the uniqueness and value of her research topic, she got the green light from Professor Sit to work on it step by step and develop a multidisciplinary study about children and adolescents with neurodevelopmental disorders.

“Professor Sit is wise, professional and knowledgeable. She would provide the best support she could, from refining the research topic and methodology to sourcing essential research equipment from the Faculty of Medicine,” says Sima.


Aim high, fly high

Sima attributes the University’s high ranking to multiple factors, including eminent faculty members, high citations, good teamwork and cross-disciplinary collaborations. She observes that CUHK professors are willing to collaborate. Her project covers paediatric neurodevelopmental disorders, and she is collaborating with the Faculty of Medicine. She believes intra and interdepartmental teamwork is the reason behind CUHK’s myriad high-quality publications.

Sima also appreciates the idea of the HKPFS, which is open to applicants irrespective of their country of origin, prior work experience and ethnic background. She attended the scheme’s virtual meeting to share with attendees from diverse cultures her PhD learning experiences. Afterwards, she received email enquiries from places including Africa, Iran and Ireland. “I connected them to my supervisor or other academic staff in our department. I tried my best to help those students who wish to seek their PhD studies in Hong Kong, especially at CUHK.

“Working as an academic at CUHK is very demanding. We must excel academically and professionally. I see many students working from 9am to 9pm in our lab,” she says. Curiosity to connect the variables is her motivation to excel. “My hard work will pay off. Even though the pandemic has affected my data collection, I trust the research output will benefit the younger generation with neurodevelopmental disorders.”


(Originally published in CUHK in Focus: Aspire to Inspire. The article was republished with permission from the Communications and Public Relations Office of CUHK.)