Begum-Haque remembered as caring friend and teacher

by Sonia Qin | 1/4/16 8:58pm

Most people remember late Geisel School of Medicine professor Sakhina Begum-Haque not only for her research, but also for her work as the resident “lab mom.”

Geisel professor Lloyd Kasper described Begum-Haque as someone who noticed “every undergraduate, graduate and medical student under her wing.”

Begum-Haque’s research assistant Joe Burgess recalls her concern of his safety while he was setting up a speaker on a tall shelf the first day he arrived at her lab.

Begum-Haque was 68 when she passed away on Dec. 13 from a heart attack while taking a flight to France with her husband, Geisel professor Azizul Haque.

On the Air France flight, Begum-Haque began feeling chest pains, Azizul Haque said. She was assisted by doctors present on the flight, but when she did not stabilize, the pilot made an emergency landing in Newfoundland, Canada.

Begum-Haque died before she could be transported to the hospital.

Azizul Haque said that she did not seem to be in any pain when she passed.

She was one of the first female Muslim faculty members in Geisel and is the first Muslim to be buried in Hanover, her son Nicolas Haque said.

Begum-Haque came to Dartmouth with her husband in 1991 for his second sabbatical, during which she began working as a post-doctorate with Kasper on an organism called toxoplasma gondii.

In 2003, Begum-Haque and Haque moved to Hanover permanently from France. She continued to work with Kasper on a new project was the exploring the gut microbiome. The project involved examining the microflora in the intestines and how they affect normal physiology or the immune response.

She began working more in neuro-immunology in 2007 and, until her death, had been working on finding a cure for multiple sclerosis.

Research assistant Anudeep Pant began working with Begum-Haque in May 2014, doing immunology research on mouse models of multiple sclerosis.

“I worked under her, but it felt like we were working as a team,” Pant said. “My input was always very valued.”

Haque said that Begum-Haque enjoyed fostering an interest in science in undergraduates. She hired many undergraduate researchers in her lab and even included their names in her published papers.

She always saw herself as a student, not as a researcher or faculty member, her son said, adding that she even dressed like a student.

“She had a childlike curiosity,” Nicolas Haque said, “She never grew out of her young and inquisitive mind.”

Azizul Haque hopes that his wife’s story will encourage other minorities and women who come from disadvantaged backgrounds to pursue their own independent research.

Nicolas Haque remembers his mother’s determination and driven attitude in the face of adversity, especially in the conservative academic environment of France in the 1980s.

Begum-Haque was born on July 22, 1947 in Comilla, Bangladesh. She was the eldest daughter in a family of five. Her family was Muslim and her father led the prayers every day.

Nicolas Haque said that she performed very well academically, but because of she was highly educated, many community members refused to pray with her father because sending girls was considered abnormal at the time.

He said that Begum-Haque continued with her education and went to boarding school in her teens. She went on to obtain a Masters in Psychology from the University of Dhaka, where she waspresident of a student wing at Eden Mohila College.

She led a protest movement with hundreds of students, fighting for the independence of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971, Nicolas Haque said.

She chose her own husband instead of accepting an arranged marriage, an unusual decision at the time, he noted.

A few years after her marriage to her husband and the birth of her first son, Begum-Haque traveled with her husband to France, where he had a permanent teaching position.

While in France and pregnant with her second son, Begum-Haque simultaneously taught herself French, pursued a Ph.D. in biology at the Lille University of Science and Technology and worked in a Côte d’Or chocolate factory doing quality control.

When Azizul Haque took his first sabbatical in the mid-1980s, the two went to the University of California, Berkeley, where she worked briefly at the United States Department of Agriculture lab, studying monoclonal antibodies. This would be her “first stint with immunology,” her husband said. Begum-Haque and her husband then went to Yale, where she was able to work with immunologist Charles Janeway, with whom she published several papers.

She returned to France at the end of her husband’s sabbatical and worked at the Pasteur Institute in Lille as a scientist. She spent time as a visiting scientist at the Max Planck Institutes.

In the workplace, Begum-Haque made it clear that colleagues were not just people she worked with but people she cared for. Geisel post-doctoral fellow Jibran Khokhar recalls visiting the Vail animal facility to run an experiment and running into Begum-Haque, who was in the midst of doing her own experiment.

“She must have stood there and talked to me for an hour,” Khokhar said, “She would really take time out of her busy schedule to talk to people.”

Begum-Haque enjoyed cooking and welcomed others into her home. She often donated to environmental organizations, had a passion for gardening and loved swimming, badminton and taking long walks around Occom Pond. She regularly attended events at the Hopkins Center and watched movies at the Nugget Theater.

On campus, Begum-Haque was part of the Muslim community and participated in a meditation group at the Tucker Center.

Her family described her as being focused and committed, with the courage and drive to face challenges and the unknown. They praised Begum-Haque for her generosity and selflessness in sharing her knowledge and research with others.

At the time of Begum-Haque’s passing, she had two grants. Two days prior to leaving for France, she had submitted a paper for publication.

Her legacy is not necessarily in the scientific work that she completed, but more in the relationships that she cultivated with others, Nicolas Haque said.

Begum-Haque is survived by two sons, six grandchildren, one younger brother and two sisters. She is preceded in death by one brother. Funeral services were held earlier in December in Hanover.

A memorial service will be held at Rollins Chapel in the first week of May. Condolences or personal comments may be sent to

Correction appended:January 5, 2016

The original version of this article stated thatBegum-Haque was thefirst female president of the student union of Dhaka University.