Ph.D. Student

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Your contribution matters, you are smart, and you make the world a better place for everyone.

Roksana Azad

What do you do?

I study various natural and non-natural signaling protein structures and dynamics using biophysical tools to understand relevant biological pathways in more detail for aiding in new therapeutic strategies.

Why did you choose this field?

During my undergraduate studies, I attended a program where one of the professors introduced us to his research on protein and their interactions with other macromolecules inside the cells, which happened to be my favorite topic in the biology class I was taking. That was the first day I learned about the research community at my campus, so I gathered the courage and probably the best decision I ever made by sending an email to one of the professors, and he was very gracious to accept me on his team. I had never felt as good as when I worked in the lab—I finally felt like I found the path of my life. It gave me the motivation to continue my undergraduate studies while making good progress in my classes. Realizing the impact that event had in my life, I knew instantly that I wanted to go to graduate school and ultimately become a professor at a university, focusing both on research and teaching. I know the struggles most minority and female students face daily when they are first-generation college students. I want to be the professor who tells them that if a Muslim, immigrant daughter from a poor family can be an accomplished Ph.D. student in Structural Biology and Biophysics, as well as a biochemistry instructor of an undergraduate college, and a proud author of many published scientific journals, then they can too.

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

During the first couple of years as an undergraduate, it was challenging for me to balance multiple jobs as well as keeping my grades up as a full-time student. Most often, I would hear from my professors and peers that I wouldn't make it anywhere, and I should drop out. They had no idea about the struggles and consequences most immigrant students have to face when they—arrive taking care of the family, school, having to learn a new language and culture simultaneously. I wish I could go back and tell myself that it will be okay! At the same time, I am from a culture where female education is not a priority, oftentimes, I would hear from my relatives that there was no need for me to go to college and study so much. I was told I should be content to get married and have kids. I cannot recall a time when I haven't felt perpetual fear in my heart upon hearing those words. Even when they are said in jest, I feel as if I am suffocating. It's a fact in my culture, after all. I was devastated, but I continued my education regardless of what anyone said, being optimistic about the future.
One of the reasons why I joined the CUNY Advanced Science Research Center (ASRC) for my Ph.D. was not only my love for structural biology and biophysics but also the educational outreach program they offer at their illumination space. I knew this was the perfect platform for me to be involved with more young high school and undergraduate students. I am an active volunteer scientist at the center, where I engage in activities with the students through which I convey the importance of STEM education using my journey as a scientist. I aspire to encourage diverse, specifically female, students to pick science education. In addition, I often visit schools with underrepresented minority students where I help them with their science projects and show them that people like us can also become scientists and have successful careers, accomplishing what our ancestors did not have the means to pursue.

Why do you love working in STEM?

I strongly believe in the power of STEM fields aiding in the advancement of our future and fighting climate change to provide a better world for the generation to come. I particularly love working in the STEM fields because of the diversity and innovative ideas one can explore yet they all synergize to make a complete story.
Every day I wake up looking forward to becoming a better advocate of STEM education. As an immigrant and first-generation female college graduate, I know how important it is for people like me to be represented in this field. I want to be the role model I wished to meet when I was at their age. I wish I had known someone during my high school or early undergraduate studies who told me that I could be a scientist, and my work will play a significant role in the advancement of medical science. Being Ph.D. students in science is not always easy but what keeps me motivated is my aspiration to encourage more diverse, specifically female students to pick STEM education.

Best advice for next generation?

In my opinion, STEM is one of the most interesting, innovative job areas one can explore. The rising concern of climate change and pandemic such as COVID-19, we need more smart people to join the STEM than ever. A girl has many chances to be involved in STEM education with her innovative ideas for the betterment of our future generation.
I want the girls to know that your contribution matters, you are smart, and you make the world a better place for everyone.

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

"We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.” -Marie Curie

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