Get a mentor as soon as you possibly can. This journey, like many others, should not be done alone so never hesitate to ask for help and guidance.
Who is Aicha?
I am a 24 year old New York City native and I have been passionate about science for as long as I can remember, but environmental science and human disease fascinated me before I even left elementary school. I’d like to think my first experience with research was around 7th grade – we were asked to write a report on any topic for science class and I produced a 5 page essay on the Love Canal, an infamous environmental tragedy. I always knew I was going to pursue a future in science, but I didn’t know which field I wanted to commit too. I went to the High School for Environmental Studies but eventually I decided to focus on science and medicine in college. I graduated with a Bachelor degree in Pharmaceutical Sciences Now I am a 2nd year PhD student in the Cellular and Molecular Biology graduate program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My research is focused on immunology and oncology, where I develop new NK cell-based therapies for childhood cancer.
Pharmaceutical Sciences B.S.
I have two fellowships that currently fund my research
How did you choose to pursue this field?
The more I learned about cancer, the more I became obsessed with understanding why it is such a complex group of diseases and why we have not created a suitable cancer therapy for decades. I was determined to be in a position to develop new treatment options for cancer while improving myself as an independent thinker and scientist. For that reason I decided to pursue a PhD immediately after my Bachelors.
Who was your inspiration or role model that guided you to this field?
There was not a specific person that inspired me to pursue research, but I am driven by my hope to develop new drugs. Ultimately I am inspired by the potential to give cancer patients better options and quality of life.
Did you always have the desire to work in this field? If not, what was your intended field? Why did you change careers?
I have always wanted to be in science, but it took some exploration for me to learn what field I wanted to specialize in. I gained experience in neuroscience, bio-engineering, and synthetic chemistry before I committed to the field of immuno-oncology.
What do you love most about your job?
What has been the most rewarding aspect of your job or career?
Using my position to educate the general public about immunology, STEM and research has been an incredibly rewarding experience and I intend to continue to advocate for science throughout my career.
What things would you change about your job?
I would change the way we researchers communicate our work to the general public. All too often we use complicated jargon and inaccessible methods to share our research which is not inclusive. I hope to encourage others to prioritize educating the public about the importance of the work we do in science. If we make our work accessible we have a chance of reaching and inspiring a greater population.
What has been the most difficult or disappointing aspect of your job?
Inevitable failures because biology does not always work the way you want it to!
How have you combated the stigma of being a “woman of color” in STEM?
I understand that society has a set of “stigmas’ for young women like me, but I ignore them because it is not my responsibility to carry that burden. I refuse to limit myself due to a fear of how people expect me to act. Instead I focus on being confident, creating quality work and results and advocating for myself in my work and career.
What tips would you offer for anyone thinking about entering into your profession?
Make sure that you spend time with the decision to pursue a PhD and that you have – at the very least – a summer of research experience before you decide to pursue a career in research. There is so much failure, disappointment, late nights, long hours, etc. So it is important that you know you want to pursue a PhD for the right reasons and understand what the journey entails. At the end of the day passion and persistence is what will help you prevail when the going gets tough, but if you don’t have the passion it will be very hard to make the sacrifices that are asked of you.
What advice would you give your younger self about your career journey as a “woman of color” working in a predominantly white, male-dominated field?
Wherever you end up, just make sure that you investigate your environment thoroughly because it is too easy to fall into a toxic workplace with people who will treat you poorly. Make sure you have a strong community to fall back on during difficult times. Lastly, know your worth and make sure you are treated with nothing less than the utmost respect.
Can you provide some words of wisdom to young ladies thinking about entering a STEM field as a career choice?
Get a mentor as soon as you possibly can. This journey, like many others, should not be done alone so never hesitate to ask for help and guidance. It will save you from unnecessary struggle.
What is your favorite Quote? How do you apply this to your life?
My favorite quote of the moment is by the great author, Toni Morrison. It is how I hope to live my life and pay it forward: “I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.”
What are your future goals related to your career?
I am still exploring my options!
How has your family influenced your journey and provide support?
My family is incredibly supportive of my career choices and they have been supportive of my passion for science from the very beginning.
What are some interesting facts about yourself that you would like to share?
I have 2 cats and a very sweet snake!
Contact Aicha for any further questions: