Graduate Research Fellow, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Don't be afraid to try something and fail at it.

Parinaz Fathi

What do you do?

I conduct research on nanoparticles and lymph nodes. I try to understand how nanoparticles interact with lymph nodes, and how I can use biodegradable nanoparticles as image contrast agents. The end goal is to use the nanoparticles to identify cancer cells that have spread to lymph nodes. I am a Bioengineer, and the general fields I work in are nanomaterials and microfluidics.

Why did you choose this field?

I became interested in science because my middle school science teacher strongly encouraged me to participate in the county science fair. My parents have always supported and encouraged my education, and they insisted that I participate in the science fair as my teacher had suggested. After a few years of participating in the science fair, I realized that I really enjoyed the process of coming up with a project idea and collecting and analyzing data. When I started college, I had the option of joining an honors program that focused on conducting a long-term team-based research project. I thought conducting research would be similar to doing science fair projects, so I decided to participate in the program. My experiences in this program helped me realize that I really love doing research. During undergrad, I also had a minor in Nanoscale Science & Technology, which increased my interest in working on things at the nano- and micro-scale. Although I majored in Mechanical Engineering as an undergrad, I realized through my research experiences that I was really passionate about working on things that can improve human health. This ultimately led me to pursue a PhD in Bioengineering.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

As a child, I used to read books about kids who had invented things and obtained patents for their inventions. I wanted to one day be an inventor with my own patents. Younger me would have been so excited to know that we submitted provisional patent applications for some of the things I've worked on as a graduate student.

Why do you love working in STEM?

I love working in STEM because I feel like the work we do can really have a positive impact on the world. I love the feeling of suddenly coming up with an idea, or finally understanding why I obtained an unexpected result. Those are the moments I look forward to every day.

Best advice for next generation?

Don't be afraid to try something and fail at it. As students, we often become used to succeeding easily, for example getting an A in a class without putting in much effort. Sometimes it can be easy to give up when we see that we're not doing as well as we expected, or having more trouble understanding something than we usually do. To succeed in STEM, we have to be okay with sometimes failing at something. The important thing is to persevere even when we feel that we have "failed" at something, and to keep learning and using our experiences to move forward despite any perceived failure.

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

It's a tie between "Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire" and "When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, then you will be successful"

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