I had the pleasure of having a one-on-one virtual meet-up with Mabruka Alfaidi MD, PhD who won the ATVB Investigator in Training Award Competition during last year’s Vascular Discovery 2021 meeting based on her fascinating work on endothelial cells and IL-1b signaling pathway as well as her active involvement with the research community. We discussed her career path and her future projects which we couldn’t do without also going over the many hurdles that come our way as researchers. I decided to summarize the main themes that we tackled in a researcher’s toolkit which encompasses key ingredients to sustain a career in research: The PPI network.
Passion: Follow your passion, but it’s ok to be unsure
Mabruka Alfaidi is a postdoc at Louisiana State University and is currently an instructor seeking her research independence. For Mabruka, her passion for research started when she was a clinical cardiologist and when she realized that one needed to do more to save patients’ lives. Her PhD at the University of Sheffield in the UK opened her eyes to the field of IL1-b signaling in endothelial cells which further developed into her research passion and the basis on which she would like to build her future research career. Research without passion is unsustainable. Passion is the fuel which will motivate us to wake up in the morning (or in the night) and check the latest research, be inspired by the newest methods and design novel hypotheses. However, it is ok to be unsure sometimes when trying to figure out our next step; do we want to stay in academia, or should we venture into setting up this start-up that we always dreamed of? Nothing is really set in stone because research, just like our passion for it, is a dynamic process and it evolves.
Perseverance: It’s ok to fail
A career in basic research is impossible without facing failures and hardships. For Mabruka who started her research path with a medical background, failure, which is assimilated to losing a person’s life in medical practice, was not an option. However, life as a basic researcher is surrounded by failures. We have all struggled with experiments not working, manuscripts getting rejected, grant applications not receiving any interest and the list goes on. So, becoming a basic researcher coming from a medical background is definitely an adjustment. In those moments where doubt creeps into our heads and our confidence and self-esteem is at its lowest, it is important to be surrounded by the right people and inspiring mentors to give us this moral boost that we need to persevere and remind us that it is ok to fail.
Interaction: Network and share your experience, you are not alone
It is common for researchers to feel isolated in their own niche of research and drown in it. However, sharing one’s experience with the research community is important to learn from others and be presented with new opportunities. Mabruka’s experience with the AHA community helped in her career development as the organization provides funding opportunities for early career researchers as well as those seeking independence and is an important platform where basic and clinical researchers can communicate and find common ground. However, Mabruka’s involvement with AHA and other research communities is because she feels that it is important for a researcher to always ‘give back’ to the community as a way to acknowledge the help and contribution they received and carry on the flame.
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Melody Chemaly is a Postdoc at the Vascular Surgery group at Karolinska Institute in Sweden. Her work aims to identify novel therapeutic targets in atherosclerosis as well as elucidate the mechanisms leading to plaque vulnerability. She is a member of the ATVB council and is particularly interested in spreading the word about translational basic research published by AHA.