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150. Rediscover Your Scientific Passion

Nadia wanted to help patients. She had considered going to medical school, but found biomedical research to be an exciting opportunity to develop new knowledge and therapies.

After graduate school, she continued her training as a postdoc. She was on the faculty-track, making plans for her project and her next career advancement.

Then, COVID hit.

She was living and working in New York City as the largest pandemic in a century unfolded around her. She realized she had developed some skills over her years of training – PCR, data management, lab operations – that might make a difference in patient outcomes.

So she pressed pause on her postdoctoral work to start a clinical testing lab that now runs 60,000 COVID tests each week.

Center of a Pandemic

Dr. Nadia Khan is a Postdoctoral Researcher at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

Dr. Nadia Khan, PhD

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, she realized that her experience preparing RNA samples and performing qPCR would be useful in performing COVID tests.

She reached out to her University, and got started preparing samples at the Mount Sinai COVID lab three days a week. But space was limited, and it wasn’t safe for her to continue working as a volunteer.

But the spark was already glowing: “I liked being able to use my scientific skills in a way that was useful tot he public in a time of need,” she recalls.

Charting a New Course

She teamed up with some contacts at a local biotech startup and forged a COVID testing lab to respond to the pandemic. She now manages nearly 30 employees and makes a sizable impact on COVID-19 in her community.

“I think I’ve always wanted to be a PI and have my own lab and direct a lab group, but now I’m starting to realize that I can be a scientific leader in a different way, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be in the academia world for me to feel successful,” she says.

Looking back at the path she took through her graduate training, Dr. Khan notes that “we only equate our successes with publications or getting awards, and we’re only really exposed to that. We only know one way to feel successful. Once you realize there are other ways to get that satisfaction, it opens doors for you. How else can I use my scientific skills in a way that makes me feel successful and makes me feel good about what I’m doing for the world?”

Her advice for early-stage scientists?

“Keep an open mind, and remember why you got into science.”

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