Nour Al-Muhtasib, PhD

she/her/hers

Where to find her:

Education:

  • University of Maryland, College Park, Biochemistry, 2010
  • Georgetown University, PhD, Pharmacology, 2013

Current Job Title: Postdoctoral Fellow

What experience first got you interested in science and is that field the same one you went on to pursue?

As cliche as it might sound, I first got interested in science as a kid. Whenever I got sick and felt pain, I would wonder what was happening to cause this pain. I pursued a degree in biochemistry in college, but I wasn’t fully satisfied and I did not want to become a medical doctor. After graduation, I got a job as a research assistant in a pharmacology lab. It was then I realized that pharmacology and physiology were the subjects I was interested in ever since I was a child.

Tell me about some people who helped or inspired you along the way, in your early training and later in your career.

I am thankful for the many people in my life that supported and guided me. My mother was a physics and chemistry teacher therefore ever since I was a little kid, she instilled a love of science in me. She tried to answer all of my questions and helped me with my homework. Although she taught in Arabic and I was learning the subjects in English, we made it work.

Mr. Hendley, my high school chemistry teacher, was also vital in the development of my career. He was kind and took time to explain difficult subjects to us.

I am also beyond thankful for my PhD mentor, Dr. Stefano Vicini. He gave me an amazing graduate school experience. Dr. Vicini was always excited about my project and would tell visitors to the lab that I was the expert. During seminars, people would sometimes direct questions at him because I am a woman, he would always redirect to me and make a point of saying that it was my project. I still go to him for advice even 2 years out of my PhD. I know I have made a mentor for life.

Can you tell me about any moments of doubt you had as a student or early in your career and how you dealt with it?

Oh my there are many and I don’t think I am alone in feeling this way. There were many times I felt like I didn’t belong or that I wasn’t going to make it. Therapy helped a lot and gave me a space to talk it out. I like to utilize this tool called Wise Mind. You draw a venn diagram. You label one circle emotional mind, one reasonable mind, and the middle wise mind. Then you fill it out. You write what your emotions are telling you and what the rational side of your mind is telling you. Then you try to marry the two which makes it easier to accept.   For example, emotional mind- this experiment didn’t work thus I am a failure and should stop doing science. Reasonable mind- sometimes experiments don’t work due to a variety of factors. Wise mind- sometimes experiments don’t work and that’s a part of being a scientist. 

Can you share two or three surprising twists or turns in your early scientific training and your later career path.

I left my first postdoc lab after a year because it was an abusive environment. This was not something I wanted to do and there were a few difficult months. I had to find a new job without letting the current mentor at the time know. I also had to face the daily onslaught of abuse. It was a very difficult time. I am currently in a new lab with a wonderful mentor and hope to continue my career in academia.

Can you give some examples of how you have incorporated your non scientific interests into your work.

My mentor is really interested in mental health outreach and our lab studies drug addiction. He gives talks about the two subjects and encourages me to do the same. On a lighter note, I like to write science parodies like Let it Glow (Let it Go).

Is there some advice you could share from your own experience to help someone with a science degree who is just starting off on their own career path.

Each journey is different. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Especially because looks can be deceiving. Do know however that you are not alone. Take care of your mental and physical health if your insurance allows you to do so.

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