‘The scholarship was a milestone in my career’

Portrait of Tanka Nath Damala
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Our new ‘Alumni in the spotlight’ series gives people from very different backgrounds the opportunity to report on the role that their funding and stay in Germany played in their personal development and professional career. On this occasion it’s Tanka Nath Dhamala, one of Nepal’s leading researchers in the field of mathematics, who recalls how study and research stays furthered his career. Although it wasn’t obvious, especially in his childhood and youth, that Dhamala would one day accomplish so much.

Above all it was support from the DAAD and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation that enabled this knowledge transfer from Germany to Nepal. I’m extremely grateful for that.

Tanka Nath Dhamala

Coverage from faraway countries often depicts children who need to travel a long way on foot through deserted landscapes to get to school. This was also the everyday school reality for Tanka Nath Dhamala. He was born in the remote village of Kuntadevi in mid-eastern Nepal and had to walk for kilometres each day to attend secondary school. An hour to get there and an hour to return home. There wasn’t even electric light in the village, so young Tanka had to learn by the light of a wood fire or an oil lamp in the kitchen. ‘It was tough back then’, Dhamala recalls. It was to become even tougher for him when his parents died in quick succession before he completed his schooling. First his father and then his mother. He survived for a year by teaching children in a neighbouring village. Tanka was a highly talented young man. He soon realised that he would need to move to the capital Kathmandu to secure his career prospects. ‘It took me five days to walk there, animated by the desire to pursue higher education in the capital’ says Dhamala. He studied mathematics, first completing his bachelor's degree and then his master's degree. ‘I took on small jobs or taught students to finance my studies’, says Dhamala. It was at that time that he also married his wife Bhuwani. An important, private milestone for the orphan. ‘I’d probably never have achieved much without her support’, he relates.

He completed his master's degree as top student of the year and was awarded the Chancellor's Gold Medal by Tribhuvan University. He began lecturing at the Central Department of Mathematics in 1990. ‘Working there was a wonderful opportunity’, says Dhamala.

His desire to continue his professional development abroad gradually increased. In Germany, to be more precise, because he had heard of Nepalese researchers there who had stimulated their academic careers. ‘I was overjoyed when my application was accepted by the in 1994 and I could start studying Industrial Mathematics at the (Rheinland-Pfälzische Technische Universität Kaiserslautern-Landau, RPTU)’, says Dhamala. ‘It opened my eyes to the significance of mathematics within industry, but also within society.’

Seminal research fellowships and academic networking

He was particularly fascinated with the concept of industrial modelling, which changed his mathematical thinking over time. He now describes his PhD at Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg between 1999 and 2002 ‘as a career milestone on my pathway to applied mathematics’. This stay was also funded by the DAAD. The for experienced researchers funded by the was also significant in terms of his career progression; it took him back again to the RPTU. The Humboldt Foundation subsequently funded an institutional partnership between his home university and the .

Dhamala was able to establish valuable contacts with German professors and universities in the course of his stays in Germany and he still continues to maintain them, including in Magdeburg, Kaiserslautern, Freiberg, Munich, Hannover, Karlsruhe, Berlin, Chemnitz and Passau. ‘All these connections serve the purpose of academic discussions and partnerships. They include research visits, seminars, conferences and the implementation of research projects, or are simply a constituent part of academic networking’, says Dhamala. His main research programme currently involves the use of optimisation models in evacuation planning.

‘Becoming integrated in Germany was like a dream’

He saw the concept of becoming integrated in Germany as being like a dream, totally beyond his imagination. Being Nepalese, he particularly appreciates the German attitude to life. He is also attempting to adopt it. ‘I have the feeling that the Germans really do what they promise to do, and they help those who are in need’, says Dhamala.

He was also impressed by our punctuality, cleanliness, organisational structure and our education and transport systems. ‘And of course by the quality and creativity of the mathematics instruction that I received there. I’ll never forget all of that.’ He initially found it a bit more strenuous to engage in interchange with Germans at the start of his stays, especially since his language skills were rather meagre at first. And above all his searches for accommodation. He was also troubled by homesickness. ‘I missed the Nepalese festivals and my family’, says Dhamala, who is now enjoying celebrations surrounded by his family. In Kathmandu, but also in Kuntadevi – his former village.


  • Iswar Mani Adhikari


    Proud to be a pupil of Prof Dhamala. I wish for your prosperity and good health.

  • Prof. Dr. Tanka Nath Dhamala


    Thank you very much Daniela and the team. I highly appreciate the continuous supports of DAAD and Humboldt whose contributions are highly recognized in my life career and to strengthen Mathematics in Nepal.

  • Tanka Nath Dhamala


    Thank you very much. I liked it and highly appreciated.

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