Dr. Ayesha Saleem
Assistant Professor (University of Manitoba) and Research Scientist (Children's Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba
If you love what you do and it will not be a 'job' but a passion.
WHAT DO YOU DO?
As a tenure-track university professor, my job has 3 large components: teaching, research, and service.
Teaching: other than the obvious definition of teaching courses (at the undergraduate and graduate levels), also involves the supervision and training of graduate students in my lab and others.
Research: I run a basic/translational research group. We do the research we are interested in - which revolves around extracellular vesicles and mitochondria. To do the research, I write grants so I can get funding to cover the costs related to the project (everything from the purchase of cells, animals, equipment, lab supplies and consumables and salaries/stipends of staff and trainees).
Service: This part of my job means I'm expected to serve the community I'm in. It can range from volunteering my time to judge posters, give training and development lectures, to visiting primary schools (I once had a group of grade 2 students isolating DNA from strawberries - it was a wild experience), to inviting high school students into my lab for a day. It also involves service to the field of research - volunteering time to peer review other researchers' work, serving as guest editor, taking part in scicomm online etc.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS FIELD?
My mom held on to some of my 'art' from my primary school days. When I was in grade 1 (or maybe 2) we were asked to draw what we would look like. I drew myself holding beakers and wearing a lab coat. So a part of me always knew I wanted to be a scientist. Quite likely because I had heard my parents speak highly of scientists at home. I also want to be an astronaut - that dream is still unfulfilled as of yet but never give up on your dreams!
While I took some detours along the way, I ended up in just the perfect spot: taking 4th-year exercise physiology with Dr. David Hood. He was hilarious! Best prof I ever had at York University. That sealed the deal. I wanted to do my MSc under his supervision. Masters became a PhD which lead to a postdoctoral fellowship that lead to my current job.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT & THINK, "I WISH YOUNGER ME WOULD HAVE KNOWN THIS WAS POSSIBLE?"
I had never volunteered in a lab before joining one. Nor did I know the first thing about research. It was an uphill battle in the first year of my MSc. Then I fell in love with my project - p53, the coolest protein in the world. The skills came much easier after that. As my colleagues and lab mates sensed my devotion and passion, their behaviour towards me changed. That in turn just facilitated greater expertise on my end. So it's really all a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe you can do it, so can others around you, which in turn will make you believe it more strongly.
WHY DO YOU LOVE WORKING IN STEM?
I love the fact that I can research whatever it is that I want to (as long as I can write good applications and get money to do the work in the lab). I love the freedom of running my independent lab. Of being my own boss. It also means I keep odd hours, and work way more than I should at times. But I try to balance it out at the end. Because all of it - all the hours spent into research - are worth it for that one shining moment in time when *you* are the only one who has discovered something brand new in the world. You're bursting to tell everyone about it - but first, you have to make sure you can reproduce the work several times. That you close all the loopholes you can. Then you start writing that paper.
BEST ADVICE FOR NEXT GENERATION?
If you love what you do and it will not be a 'job' but a passion. It sounds cliché but it's true. If you like STEM, go for it. If you don't know where to start, ask for help from your teachers. Ask any scientist on Twitter. Reach out to universities even if you're in high school or middle younger. I just hosted a grade 10 and grade 12 student in my lab. Phenomenal budding researchers who did as much as I expect of undergraduates/graduate students. Remember that it is never too soon, nor too late to start.
There is a quote by Roald Dahl that sums up my philosophy and it's the best advice I can give you:
“I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life...If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it at full speed ahead. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good. Hot is no good either. White hot and passionate is the only thing to be.”
INSPO / FUN FACT
Oh boy, I just put one for the previous question. Here's another two by my all-time favourite author, Sir Terry Pratchett (highly recommend reading as many of his books as you can!):
“If you trust in yourself...and believe in your dreams...and follow your star... you'll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren't so lazy.”
“It's still magic even if you know how it's done.”